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The beginnings of the Cameron Krutwig legend

The Loyola Chicago big man’s post dominance and passing wizardry has its roots at Jacobs High School.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Georgia Tech at Loyola-Chicago Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

There were murmurs about Cameron Krutwig.

When Jimmy Roberts became head boys basketball coach at Jacobs High School in Algonquin, Illinois in 2013, he’d heard about the younger Krutwig. And as far as younger brothers go, this murmur was one to listen to. Conrad Krutwig had been a standout forward at Jacobs before playing Division I college basketball.

Could it be that the younger Krutwig kid was better?

“I can vividly remember the first day we did anything together,” Roberts said. “It was just evident his intelligence and understanding of the game. He had size already, but he was still kind of an awkward 14- or 15-year old kid. But it was clear right away he’d be a varsity player as a freshman.”

Eight years later, the one-time 6’5 incoming high school freshman is yet again shining under college basketball’s brightest lights. Now, the 6’9 senior center is fresh off his latest masterpiece, tangling with Illinois center Kofi Cockburn and leading Loyola Chicago past the Illini into their second Sweet 16 in three years.

For Roberts, the stuff that’s made Krutwig one of college basketball’s best players has been there all along. His passing — which dazzled against Illinois and has been dazzling to those paying attention for years — was something he was doing that led Jacobs to 93 wins over his four varsity seasons.

One sequence stands out to Roberts in particular. The Golden Eagles were coming off a disappointing Thanksgiving tournament in Krutwig’s freshman year, and facing a league opener at Prairie Ridge, a difficult place to play in the Fox Valley Conference.

In the second half, Krutwig improvised a play that helped change the game.

“There was a loose ball and he dives on the floor and comes up with it. He’s sitting on his butt and kind of makes a ball fake — from his butt — and throws a bounce pass to a cutter almost between his legs,” Roberts said. “It was a huge basket and we went on to a win the game. Something early on that showed his feel for the game as a 15-year old kid.”

Whereas now Krutwig initiates plenty of offense for the Ramblers from the top of they key, the situations he was passing out of at Jacobs were different. As imposing an interior presence as he is now, it was multiplied at the high school level. He averaged over 15 points and 12 rebounds per game in both his junior and senior seasons and, when he left Jacobs, was a top 10 career rebounder in Illinois high school basketball history.

That led to plenty of plenty of attention from opposing defenses.

“He was dealing more with double and triple teams, just being swarmed by the other team,” Roberts said. “He was more catching it in the post area and getting doubled and tripled, and having great vision and whipping passes from awkward angles, and more so making great passes like that.”

Photo courtesy Jimmy Roberts
Photo courtesy Jimmy Roberts

The Rambler center certainly wasn’t drawing as much attention during his freshman year at Loyola, but he was nonetheless a vital part of the run to the 2018 Final Four. He was a locked-in starter by the time the tournament rolled around, and was the Ramblers’ most effective player (17 points, 6 rebounds) in the Final Four loss to Michigan in San Antonio.

His role has only increased since. The Missouri Valley Player of the Year and three-time all-league first teamer is now the face — and mustache — of another deep tournament run. He underpins one of the country’s best defenses, and creates matchup problems on the offensive end with his playmaking from the center position.

Whether Porter Moser envisioned that sort of career or not, Roberts said the Ramblers’ coach was drawn to Krutwig’s love for the game when he was recruiting him.

“Coach Moser always talks about Coach [Rick] Majerus being a huge influence on him, and when [Majerus] looked for a big he wanted to find bigs who are basketball players,” Roberts said. “A lot of big kids, tall kids just play basketball because they’re tall, and they’re not basketball junkies, not basketball players and that’s what he loved in Cam. He’s a basketball junkie, he’s a gym rat he just loves to play.”

And Roberts — who has maintained a close relationship with Krutwig — has gotten to see his former star big in plenty of big games. He was in Atlanta in 2018 for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight wins over Nevada and Kansas State, respectively, and was in Indianapolis this past weekend to watch the Ramblers steal the state from the Illini.

A close relationship is something Roberts said Krutwig also felt with Moser, then-Loyola assistant (and now Southern Illinois head coach) Bryan Mullins and the rest of the Ramblers staff when he was being recruited. And having seen his brother go through the process, Krutwig took a mature approach to making his college decision.

“A lot of kids just wait for the highest offer. They want a Big Ten offer, a high major offer. He committed to Loyola early, and if he waited until after his senior year was over, a high major may have come.”

“But he straight up said, ‘I want to go somewhere I’m wanted, and I don’t want to be a second or third option for one of those high majors. I don’t want to get an offer because their first three guys committed somewhere else,” Roberts said.

It was a decision that’s clearly paid off for all parties involved. Like for Roberts at Jacobs, Krutwig is the first option for Moser and the Ramblers, and it’s a relationship that’s shining yet again in March.