Every year in Minnesota 10 finalists for the annual Mr. Basketball award are announced, as they were earlier this week. The honor goes to the top senior boys basketball player in the state. It's impossible to make everyone happy, resulting in marquee players who wind up being snubbed.
This year is no different, though one snub from the list of 10 finalists is a scoring machine from a small school in southeastern Minnesota.
Kooper Vaughn, a 6-foot-1 senior guard from St. Charles High School, scored 37 points in Friday night's 61-60 playoff loss to Lake City, which ended St. Charles' season and Vaughn's high school basketball career. Though the season is over, Vaughn goes down as the 2021 state scoring leader, averaging 37.6 points per game.
Vaughn torched nets all across southern Minnesota, doing so while wearing a mask and frequently being trapped and double-teamed, just as he was in Friday's night's thriller against Lake City, according to RiverTowns.net.
“Kooper Vaughn is unreal. He’s hitting step-back threes. We didn’t let him get to the rim. We didn’t let him get to the free-throw line, which is a big part of our goal,” Lake City head coach Greg Berge told RiverTowns. “You got to give him credit for hitting some of those shots and hitting them consistently.”
While 37 points would be a career-high for most high school players, it was barely even half of Vaughn's top scoring game. In the section playoff opener he scored 61 of his team's 89 points in a win over Triton.
That was the second time Vaughn eclipsed 60 points in a game. He lit up Fillmore Central with 63 points in the season opener.
"First and foremost, Kooper is a great kid, a fun teammate, and a super kid to coach," St. Charles head coach Terry Knuthe said in an email to BMTN. " He does the bulk of his scoring for the most part in the flow of our offense. His ability to get to the line (87% shooter) also aids his scoring, sets up his perimeter play, and sets up his teammates who play well off him."
According to Knuthe, Vaughn was put in the unexpected position of having to carry the load after two-time all-conference player Drew Maloney was lost for the season due to an ACL injury.
"He has been just super steady (38 pt/game right now) which is hard to do when everyone in the gym is focused on him. And he has done it against both metro teams, 41 vs Mpls Patrick Henry last year, to his 61 in our opening tourney game this week," said Knuthe.
"He set an all-time state record, which is #3 Nationally all time for making 26/26 free throws in a game last year. He has finished 3rd, and 2nd in the state the past 2 years in 3-pt shots made for the season, and this year sits tied for 1st, despite only playing 14 games due to team quarantine/Covid issues."
In all reality, the Mr. Basketball Award is probably a lock to go to Minnehaha Academy 7-footer Chet Holmgren, who is rated the No. 1 recruit in the country. He's a no-brainer pick to win the award, and the other nine candidates are extremely deserving as well. And there are no hard feelings in St. Charles that Vaughn didn't make the final 10 candidates.
"So had he made the top 10, in our minds it would have been well deserved," said Knuthe. "For us though, it has been just a treat to be able to watch him first hand put on a show on a nightly basis with his unbelievable shooting."
Vaughn is one of 30 semifinalists for the 2021 McDonald Award, which was created a few years ago by the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association and also recognizes the top players in the state. The award is named after legendary prep coach Bob McDonald.
Vaughn is committed to St. John's University in central Minnesota, where he will continue his basketball career.