Every high school basketball player has their own story, and North Side senior Jaylen Butz knows that having one of trials and tribulations doesn’t necessarily make him unique.
What does make the 6-11 DePaul-bound forward unique is that there is no awe about his experiences or what still lies ahead before high school wraps up. Instead, Butz says that getting to where he is has always been the goal and that with hard work there was never much doubt that he would be able to achieve.
And what he has achieved would leave many other players and onlookers in awe. Butz averaged 17.3 points and 12.6 rebounds during a senior season that saw him lead North Side to their first state title game since 1965 and make himself the seventh Indiana All-Star in the school’s history. For those reasons, he has been named the 2016-2017 News-Sentinel Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
It is a high point that Butz has reached by transforming his game, attitude and perspective from the time he transferred to North Side as a sophomore after a less-than-ideal situation at Bishop Luers due to health and academic issues. When he began his career as a Redskin, later a Legend, he came in on the heels of the best season in program history. It didn’t take Butz long to find his place and fall in line with senior leaders like Terrell Crews and Sean McGee.
“The biggest attribute to Jaylen’s growth has been his maturity,” said North Side coach Shabaz Khaliq. “We all know about his size and athletic ability, but it was his willingness to grow as a young man that helped him the most. Jaylen started to understand the need for hard work to get what you want. I believe that he realized that he needed to work harder, which is what his coaches wanted for him to do, be a leader for his teammates, and hold himself accountable.”
The accountability became a critical role in what comes after North Side: playing Division I basketball at DePaul University, where academics are well-regarded. In less than four years, Butz has grown from a player who walked the line of eligibility and ineligibility academically at Luers to a future pursuing a sports management degree at the Chicago school.
“I like the challenge. It’s not always about basketball. When I graduate from DePaul, things will be more taken care of. Basketball-wise, I am trying to rebuild and help get the program up,” Butz said. “But if I don’t advance further in basketball, my education being there at DePaul will look good.”
Long before North Side became a home, he also struggled with health issues stemming from a collapsed lung suffered during tryouts his freshman year. The injury kept Butz from initially reaching heights that he had naively set for himself before he ever touched a high school court. He fought through lung issues again before his sophomore season, but there was a different vibe through it all. At North Side, he had the support in place to strive to keep getting better.
“When Baz brought me in, he had a great plan for me. He talked to my mom, and he told her then everything that he planned to do and he did it,” Butz said. “Before I played at North, Terrell Crews (a 2015 North Side grad) was telling me, ‘We are happy to have you here, and we are going to do something special.’ Just as a senior, he wanted to let me know that they looked at me as someone to help them do big things.”
“JB understands now that the people who tell you what you want to hear are not the ones who care about you, but the people that tell you what you need to hear are the people that do,” Khaliq noted. “I have always told JB what he needed to hear, whether he wanted to hear it or not because I care about him as a person.”
Development took a big spike for Butz heading into his senior season, making waves playing on the EYBL circuit with Spiece Indy Heat, an AAU team long known for housing the very best players in the state of Indiana.
As a senior, Butz helped take North Side to another level alongside another of the state’s top players in sophomore Keion Brooks Jr. The Legends won their fourth straight SAC Tournament Title, something that had never been done before. They added the school’s first sectional since 2014, a first regional title since 1995 and advance to their first state title game in 52 years before falling short to Ben Davis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. All along, Butz was a steady hand producing double-doubles actively showing his leadership on and off the court.
“Every top guy in the city doesn’t want to play with another top guy in the city,” Butz said of the importance of the Legends’ unselfishness this year. “Guys want to be the man on their team. It never needed to be about me because I knew what guys were capable of doing. It wasn’t about trying to stand out.”
Outside of his stellar skills in the post and ever evolving game with highlight reel dunks, Butz captivated city basketball fans with his upbeat attitude, rarely showing signs of sulking while flashing a brace-faced grin that could have easily become his trademark. But even so, Butz has shown when to flash a smile and when to bare down and get tough says Khaliq.
“He always has a smile on his face and wants to crack jokes. He will go to DePaul and immediately find comraderie amongst his teammates,” Khaliq said. ‘JB is also a gamer, he takes it up a notch. When the ball goes in the air, he competes.”
Every high school basketball player has a story. Jaylen Butz will finish his representing Indiana in upcoming all-star games. But with a final chapter not yet written, Butz can look back – not in awe – but just fondly of the road here.
“It was a great experience. We embraced each other throughout the whole journey. We enjoyed each other and not every team gets to do that. Nobody on our team had every been on that kind of stage,” Butz said of his final trip in a North Side uniform, leading to the state finals. “It was a fun run for me. I have enjoyed this trip at North Side.”
RECENT N-S BOYS BASKETBALL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2017 — Jaylen Butz, North Side
2016 — Tahj Curry, Homestead
2015 — Caleb Swanigan, Homestead
2014 — Trevion Crews, North Side
2013 — VJ Beachem, New Haven
2012 — Bryson Scott, Northrop
2011 — Austin Hatch, Canterbury
2010 — Deshaun Thomas, Bishop Luers
2009 — Deshaun Thomas, Bishop Luers
2008 — Deshaun Thomas, Bishop Luers
2007 — Eshaunte Jones, North Side
2006 — Jeron Lewis, North Side
2005 — Adam Arnold, Bellmont
2004 — James Hardy, Elmhurst
2003 — James Hardy, Elmhurst
2002 — Seth Colclasure, Bellmont
2001 — Seth Colclasure, Bellmont