Insider: A closer look at 2017 IndyStar Mr. Basketball race

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Left to right: Kris Wilkes, Cooper Neese and Jack Nunge.

Left to right: Kris Wilkes, Cooper Neese and Jack Nunge.

INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been written — in this space, many times — that tournament success often plays a role in the selection of IndyStar Indiana Mr. Basketball, presented by the Indiana Pacers.

Winning a state championship, like Tech’s Trey Lyles in 2014 and Homestead’s Caleb Swanigan in 2015, can certainly sway voters. But it’s also interesting to note that three of the previous five Mr. Basketball winners didn’t make it out of sectional play as a senior: Gary Harris of Hamilton Southeastern in 2012, Zak Irvin of HSE in 2013 (Carmel won state both seasons) and Lawrence Central’s Kyle Guy in 2016.

Which brings us to this year. Kris Wilkes led North Central to back-to-back sectional championships against what is considered the toughest field in the state. But also for the second consecutive year, the Panthers were upset in the regional semifinal at Southport. Does that open the door for another player to make his claim to the award? How many legitimate candidates are still out there playing on Saturday? Remember, only seniors are eligible.

I have five candidates listed below. This is not an “official” list (there isn’t one) but my thoughts on the top five candidates, listed in alphabetical order:

Jaylen Butz, Fort Wayne North Side

Fort Wayne North Side's Jaylen Butz

Fort Wayne North Side’s Jaylen Butz

• By the numbers: The 6-9 Butz, a DePaul recruit, is averaging 17.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.2 blocked shots per game. Butz has scored 1,092 career points to rank in the top five in school history.

• Case for: Butz’s team is still playing. North Side (26-2) will play Merrillville (21-7) in the Huntington Semistate on Saturday for the right to play in the state finals. Butz has been consistently strong all season.

• Case against: Butz isn’t the leading scorer on his team. Sophomore Keion Brooks, one of the top 2019 prospects in the country, is North Side’s leading scorer on the season.

Cooper Neese, Cloverdale

Photo gallery: Butler recruit and Cloverdale star Cooper Neese

• By the numbers: The 6-4 Neese, a Butler recruit, averaged 27.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.1 steals as a senior. Cloverdale finished 21-6 and won a Class 2A sectional for the third consecutive year. He was 118-for-309 (38.2 percent) from the 3-point line.

• Case for: Neese finished his career with 2,496 points to rank seventh all-time in state history. Three of the six ahead of him — Damon Bailey, Deshaun Thomas and Rick Mount — won Mr. Basketball. He also had 717 career rebounds (6.9), 273 steals (2.7) and 260 assists (2.6) for his career.

• Case against: Cloverdale’s season is over after a loss to Northeastern in the regional. A couple more wins could have really generated some buzz and helped his case.

• DOYEL: What Cooper Neese means to Cloverdale

• INSIDER: Butler commit Cooper Neese was born to be a Bulldog

Jack Nunge, Castle

Jack Nunge's big performances have Castle in Saturday's semistate.

Jack Nunge’s big performances have Castle in Saturday’s semistate.

• By the numbers: The 6-9 Nunge, an Iowa recruit, is averaging 22.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.6 blocked shots and 2.5 assists as a senior. Castle (24-3) will play Ben Davis (21-5) in the Seymour Semistate on Saturday.

• Case for: Nunge’s case is building. He had 27 points and 22 rebounds in the regional semifinal win over Bloomington South and followed it with 20 points and 19 rebounds as Castle ousted defending state champion New Albany in night game. Nunge has 1,344 career points and 715 career rebounds in three varsity seasons.

• Case against: Castle hadn’t advanced out of the sectional in Nunge’s previous two seasons so there could be a lack of awareness from a statewide perspective.

Kris Wilkes, North Central

Photo gallery: North Central standout Kris Wilkes

• By the numbers: The 6-7 Wilkes, a UCLA recruit, averaged 21.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and shot 39.4 percent from the 3-point line as a senior. North Central (23-5) won its sectional for the second consecutive season after a five-year drought.

• Case for: Wilkes is the two-time Marion County Player of the Year and finished his career with 1,831 career points and 548 rebounds. Against one of the state’s toughest schedules, North Central was 77-22 in his four seasons. He is a McDonald’s All-American.

• Case against: North Central, ranked No. 1 in the state for much of the year, wasn’t able to get past the regional semifinal for the second year in a row.

Malik Williams, Fort Wayne Snider

Fort Wayne Snider's Malik Williams, right, is headed to Louisville next season.

Fort Wayne Snider’s Malik Williams, right, is headed to Louisville next season.

• By the numbers: The 7-foot Louisville recruit averaged 21.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.0 blocked shots and shot 36.1 percent from the 3-point line (44-for-122) as a senior.

• Case for: Williams is arguably the top prospect in the senior class. He was a core Junior All-Star last season and can play inside and out.

• Case against: Snider was 17-7 this season but lost by 15 points to North Side in the sectional championship. Snider didn’t advance out of the sectional during Williams’ time.

Anybody else?

I’d expect Connersville’s Grant Smith, East Chicago Central’s Jermaine Couisnard, Warren Central’s Mack Smith and potentially a few others to get votes. But, just like the teams in the tournament field, the race is narrowing.

Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

• MISS BASKETBALL: Here are this year’s three finalists 


Love high school sports? Then celebrate the athletes! The Indiana Sports Awards on April 27 will honor top athletes throughout the state and feature a performance by Pat McAfee. Find more information about the event and get your tickets now at

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