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A man of many numbers: Statistician Nuest hasn't missed a Kouts boys basketball game in 53 years

KOUTS -- If not for a property transaction back in the late 1950s, the statistical legend of Keith Nuest may well have come to be a phenomenon somewhere other than Kouts.

"My brothers were going to start farming with my dad," Nuest said of the land on which they were living. "The guy that owned it willed the place to Bradley University and when he died, they sold it and made it into a game preserve."

So, in the midst of his junior year at Morocco, Nuest had to move back to Kouts, leaving behind a starting spot on a 10-4 basketball team, not to mention a girlfriend.

"It was horrible," he said. "I didn't want to move away when I did and I didn't want to move back when I did," he said. "The coach wanted me to live with them and stay. If it was January to June, I may have, but not a year-and-a-half."

Morocco's loss was Kouts' gain.

In the short term, it was the addition of a versatile athlete who played baseball, making all-conference, and basketball, ran cross country, and did track and field, where he was a part of three Porter County Conference records (long jump, 400 and mile relay).

"Morocco didn't have baseball," he said. "The PCC had a fall league. That was the extent of my high school baseball career. I only ran cross country because we had to for basketball. Track may have been my best sport."

At the age of 25, Nuest began keeping track of the stats instead of making them, picking up work with the Kouts Times to compile game reports.

"Just to get the kids some recognition," he said. "When I was in school, we were lucky if the paper put in a box score, maybe one paragraph. I got like $7 a week."

Fifty-three years and over 1,100 tipoffs later, the 78-year old Nuest has failed to miss a Kouts boys basketball game, long ago establishing himself as the go-to guy for all information about not only Kouts but all of the PCC, Porter County and some other schools in the surrounding area.

"There were some times I probably should've stayed home," he said. "But I'd always think, I could be sick at home or I could be sick at the game. I might as well be doing something to keep my mind off it."

Nuest was the Mustangs' official scorekeeper for 49 of those years, giving up that responsibility (and the check that came with it) three years ago. That move coincided with the arrival of the current Class A state finalist group whose warp-speed pace of play made it too difficult for him to maintain all the various categories, in addition to the duties of the scorer's table.

"Basically with this team, they're so fast, I could hardly keep up anymore," Nuest said. "The stats were tough enough, let alone to keep track of one and ones, possessions. When they play somebody who will run with them like 21st Century, wow. I've got to store six, eight things in my head. It's hard to say they're not the best (Kouts) team ever, but I hesitate to do that because they had some teams when Ricky Hise playing that went to semistate and almost went to state, 2002, 2003."

Kouts also won consecutive sectionals in the 90s at Kankakee Valley with Jake Wade and Josh Kain.

"Those were pretty darn good teams," Nuest said. "They lost to Elston one year, La Porte the other. Who knows if they had class? (This team) would've won three (sectionals) in a row, at least, without (21st Century). Class was supposed to help give (smaller schools) a better chance, but not in our sectional."

Kouts, Nuest notes, is 73-9 the last three years, reaching new heights with not only its 29 wins but its first state berth.

"It's been a blast last three years," he said. "They're just destroying the record book. It's a big thrill to be able to be a part of that. Whoever thought it was even possible at Kouts? They've had a certain amount of success over the years, but to get to that point, it's everybody's dream. I'm just happy for the kids -- they work so hard at it -- the coaching staff and the community."

The fact that Kouts will end up playing 32 games amid the COVID-19 pandemic is a feat in and of itself, and it was no given that Nuest would be able to be along for the ride that will culminate Saturday in Indianapolis.

"I struggled with it," said Nuest, who has since received both vaccine shots. "I didn't want to give it up yet. I've still got my mind, I can still get around. It was a big concern. If I got COVID, there's a really good chance I might not be around. (Kouts) worked with me. They have three or four rows behind me open. They've protected me. I haven't traveled with the team much this year. I didn't want to be on a bus with all the kids."

From the time he was in grade school, Nuest loved and excelled at numbers. He started listening to the Cubs on the radio when he was 6.

"I collected baseball cards and I was so familiar with the cards, my dad would take one and cover everything except a corner and say, all right, who's that a card of?" he said. "I could tell him most of the time."

Stored in a filing cabinet next to the computer in the research center of Nuest's Kouts home are several scorebooks that include information from a myriad of games dating back to the 60s.

"I used to keep score of (prep) basketball games on the radio. I'd listen to some of the Gary schools," he said. "I'd watch the Cubs and keep the scorebook. I (did stats for) the 1977 playoffs, the Bulls and Portland, sometimes TV, sometimes radio."

When Nuest hired into Midwest Steel at the age of 21, he knocked out a 100-question math test in five minutes.

"They had an old stove timer, the lady put on 10 minutes, she left, she comes back after five minutes, I'm sitting there, the pencil's laying on the desk, she (asked), are you having a problem?" Nuest recalled. "(I said,) no, I'm done. (She's like,) what?!"

At one point, he took a management position to make more money, but the extra income wasn't worth all the late meetings for Nuest, who also began doing stats for the Kouts baseball team in 1968.

"I didn't like it," he said. "I was trying to get out to go to games. After like 14 months, I went back to my old job, working with numbers more again. They were good enough to work with me all those years. I'd come in early to make up the time, and get out when I needed to for games."

Nuest spent 39 years at Midwest, retiring in 2003 at age 60, and, save for basketball this season, has traveled with the team since.

While best known for his basketball acumen, Nuest still does baseball scorekeeping. He's missed five or six games over the years, three of them in one season, when he was in Myrtle Beach. Kouts' field was named after him last year, but the official dedication ceremony was never held due to the cancellation of the season.

"Maybe they'll change their mind," he joked. "I love baseball. A lot of people don't know I coached baseball for 40 years. I ran a summer league for 20-some years. We had nine, 10 teams. I was grateful to those (coaches) to allow me to do that."

Since the 80s, Nuest has done season record books for roughly 35 basketball teams, both boys and girls, across Northwest Indiana, compiling data from MaxPreps and what the schools provide. While he continues to do each game in a regular paper notebook, he computerized the overall process about 30 years ago, storing a vast cache of information, including a scoring log of every player in program history from the most down to zero.

"I keep track of quite a bit of stuff," said Nuest, a major contributor to the ET Pearl basketball web site. "There are so many things to pull from. I don't think anybody's got this stuff."

Given the detail of his Kouts statistics, he has a team-specific program for them.

"I think the kids at Kouts are so used to it," said Nuest, who also does stats for Kouts girls basketball, softball and track. "I send parents stats after every game. At the end of the year, I do a book for all the graduating seniors for every sport."

Nuest is grateful that his second wife, Lana, who passed away in August, indulged his passion. The couple were married for 46 years and, ironically, she wasn't a big sports fan.

"She rarely went to games," he said. "She didn't like the noise, the crowds. She allowed me to do this."

An avid golfer when he's not compiling statistics, Nuest has no plans to ride off into the sunset with Kouts' trip to state.

"As long as I can and it's still fun," he said. "I enjoy doing it. It is a labor of love."

Keith Nuest has been keeping statistics for Kouts' boys basketball teams for 53 years and has never missed a game. His string of well over 1,100 will include its first state championship game Saturday, when the Mustangs play for the Class A title against Barr-Reeve.

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