Mundelein 12/04/12 -- Brad Kruse (22) of Lake Zurich High School elevates for the shot during their game against Mundelein High School on Tuesday December 4, 2012 at Mundelein High School. |Darrell Harmon~for Sun-Times Media
Lake Zurich’s boys basketball team has a vision for how it wants to play.
“Be fundamentally sound, take charges,” LZ coach Billy Pitcher said. “Not make mistakes on either end of the floor.”
Brad Kruse is a walking, running and jumping representation of that vision. A 6-foot-3, 170-pound junior guard/wing, Kruse is emblematic of this season’s Bears.
In a loss to Mundelein on Dec. 4, Lake Zurich played like the little brother who swings as hard as he can, yet isn’t strong enough to bruise his older sibling.
Down by as many as 16 points to the Mustangs, the Bears rallied throughout the game, getting as close as within 53-48 in the fourth quarter, before losing 74-65. Mundelein’s high-octane running attack, featuring college recruits Sean O’Brien and Chino Ebube, was too good over the course of four quarters for the halfcourt-oriented, screen-heavy Bears.
Despite the loss, Lake Zurich played like a team with an identity outlined by its coach — with Kruse, who finished with 12 points, as leading man.
“I have to be a leader on the defensive end,” Kruse said. “On offense, its about being aggressive, following the scouting report.”
Standing just 5-7 as a gangly freshman, Kruse played summer ball with the AAU Rising Stars and Joy of the Game, but needed size to match up. He got it with a growth spurt: five inches by sophomore year.
“I was my mom’s height (5-7),” Kruse said, referring to his mother, Lori. “Three months later, I was looking down at her.”
Before the 2012-13 season, Kruse added three more inches to his frame to reach his current height of 6-3. Throw in 15 pounds of muscle, and now Lake Zurich has a player with the size and strength to guard larger wings, and athletic enough to play the point.
Because he was so vertically challenged as a younger player, Kruse always played guard. That forced him to develop ball handing skills. Against Mundelein, he brought the ball up, getting the Bears into their offense. Many times during the game, Kruse finished what he started.
Down 49-38 late in the third quarter, it looked as though Lake Zurich was out of rallies. Then Kruse took the ball at the top of the 3-point line, drove to his right and finished at the basket while taking a body blow. He finished the 3-point play, which keyed a 8-2 Bears run.
It was the type of play Kruse likely would not have made last season in limited varsity time. It’s also the type of play Lake Zurich wants to be known for now.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement in his confidence. The ability has always been there,” senior guard Ryan Roach said about Kruse. “He’s a lot more aggressive than last year, taking a lot of shots for us.”
Added Kruse: “I wouldn’t have been in that situation or have been able to capitalize on that situation (last year).”
As Lake Zurich continues to build its reputation as a smart, opportunistic, fundamentally sound team, watch No. 22. He’s a living, breathing, basketball-playing symbol of what the Bears are and aspire to be.