The question was always the same. Whenever a colleague would stroll into the Greenfield-Central High School gym, find a seat in the media area and scan the floor for No. 3 in curiosity, it was the first question they’d ask.
Is she Miss Basketball? Is she really that good?
My answer was as repetitive as the question posed throughout the 2016-17 girls basketball season, and typically verified by game’s end.
”Yes, Madison Wise is Miss Basketball in my opinion, and you know what? She’s really that good.”
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More than three months later, the question continues to pop up in my inbox. I’ve received instant messages from a few sports reporters I’ve come to know after 15 years in the business, some calls and the occasional text.
As voting for this year’s Indiana All-Stars and most prestigious award are finalized this week, it appears some are still torn. I can empathize. For those unfamiliar with Wise’s game, it can be a difficult decision to make based on second-hand knowledge.
Unlike last year’s slam dunk vote for Princeton’s Jackie Young, who captured the headlines along with the state’s career-scoring record before heading to Notre Dame, there was little hesitation.
How can you vote against the scoring champion? Good question. For the record, I did.
No, I didn’t do it to rebel against popular opinion. I felt, much like this year, there were several worthy candidates that for one reason or another didn’t happen to get the same attention.
A similar argument can be made for Wise, who can appear mysterious to those outside of central Indiana — and apparently to even a few within the market.
Let’s be honest, voters can be lazy. Whether deciding who’s their best player or who their next city councilman should be, people often go with the flow, so to speak, and gravitate toward the same information.
In years past, I followed suit at times. Who led the state in scoring? They must be the best. Who took their team the deepest in the state tournament? They have to be the top player.
This year is truly a head scratcher when taking the tried-and-true information into account. If scoring is your go-to, then Gary West Side’s speedy and athletic Dana Evans is the winner, averaging 36.0 points per game.
The future Louisville Cardinal is the nation’s third-ranked point guard and seventh-best recruit overall, according to ESPN. She was named a McDonald’s All-American, and rightfully so, winning a sectional title this year and a gold medal for the USA-18 Team last summer.
As a Gary native, I have a ton of respect for Evans and the five-star recruit’s shot of becoming the first Northwest Indiana player to win the award since 1998. She presented herself with poise, confidence and was charismatic all year while leading her young team.
The same can be said of Homestead’s Karissa McLaughlin, a four-star recruit, ranked as the 10th-best point guard by ESPN. While surrounded by more talent, the future Florida Gator powered her Spartans to the program’s first-ever state title last weekend.
More enigmatic than Wise, McLaughlin’s statistics were kept under lock and key most of the year — never quite understood why coaches think this prevents opponents from scouting. It doesn’t by the way.
Averaging 25.8 points per game, McLaughlin poured in 29 against Pike during the Class 4A state championship, sadly one of the only games voters sometimes pay attention to when making their final decision.
Simply put, that would be un-Wise.
Quietly, Wise, a five-star Iowa State recruit, averaged a double-double for a fourth straight season. That wasn’t a typo, a fourth consecutive. And she posted 23.5 points a game and 10.1 rebounds this season, in arguably the most trying of her three previous.
Without a healthy Katie Helgason, a Ball State recruit, at point guard, who was sidelined by an ACL tear and limited upon her return, Wise was forced to adapt. Not only did the nation’s 10th-ranked wing by ESPN play out of position in the backcourt, the 6-1 senior did so against a brutal schedule, which included a win against Evans and a loss to McLaughlin.
Her sacrifice for the team and constant double and triple coverage cost her some production, but not enough to keep her from becoming the county’s all-time leading scorer in girls basketball history (2,109 points) and a Hall of Fame Classic champion.
In the process, Wise surpassed 2000 graduate John Hamilton (2,064) as Greenfield-Central’s all-time leading scorer regardless of gender. She shot a stellar 54 percent for her career and set the school’s career rebound mark (1,091), among other standards, such as blocked shots (311).
If history has any say in Wise’s chances of earning the state’s No. 1 jersey, then she’s in good company as only the fifth girls basketball player to surpass both 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in her career.
What about the other four?
Young, who won the 2016 Indiana Miss Basketball award winner, finished her career with 3,268 points and 1,090 rebounds. Ben Davis’ Shyra Ely, who was the 2001 Indiana Miss Basketball, had 1,218 rebounds and 2,004 career points.
In 1993, Charlestown graduate and Indiana Miss Basketball winner Abby Conklin had 1,269 career rebounds and 2,616 points. Stephanie White of Seeger, who was voted the winner in 1995, posted 1,109 rebounds and 2,869 points.
Is Madison Wise Miss Basketball?
If I was asked again, today, I would add a footnote to my already well-known response.
Yes, she is, and more importantly, she’s a remarkable student-athlete. Sure, she can dominate on the court, but she is also ranked 15th in her class, a National Honor Society member and holds a 4.2 GPA as class president.
Those are difficult numbers to ignore.