The Notebook

Jesse Kramer : The Notebook

Loyola's Cameron Krutwig is one of the top freshman in the country (Photo: Steve Woltmann)/

Freshman center Cameron Krutwig has Loyola Chicago as a mid-major threat
by Jesse Kramer,
Cameron Krutwig’s combination of size and skill doesn’t come through a small, mid-major program like Loyola Chicago often. Yet the 6-foot-9 big man who’s helped Loyola reach first place in the Missouri Valley gets his favorite advice from one of the smallest characters in movie history.
“Do or do not; there is no try,” Krutwig says, quoting Yoda, the green Jedi master from the Star Wars franchise.
The quote fits Krutwig, who has shown little to no trepidation as a freshman starter thrust into a conference title race. He earned his first start four games into the season and has stayed in the starting five ever since. Krutwig’s teammates — even the seniors — refer to him as a leader. Loyola coach Porter Moser calls him the most vocal player he’s ever coached. 
“He’s like a 5’8” walk-on guard,” Moser said of Krutwig’s demeanor. “You know how those guys are always the most enthusiastic people in the gym? Cam’s like that. He’s a really fun kid to coach because his mind is always ready. He’s really been the most consistent player, locked in mentally every day. That’s unheard of – unheard of! – as a freshman.”
Averaging 12.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in MVC play, Krutwig has a case to become the league’s first true freshman on the All-Conference First Team since Doug McDermott in 2008-09. Among the MVC’s 10 leaders in usage rate, Krutwig’s 121.2 offensive rating, a measure of how many points a player produces per 100 possessions, blows the rest out of the water. Preseason Player of the Year Alize Johnson is the next best at 115.6.
Those numbers have vaulted Krutwig to third in KenPom’s MVC Player of the Year race and fifth in Bart Torvik’s. While some freshmen hit a proverbial wall at this point in the season, Krutwig has played some of his best basketball in February averaging 13.3 points, 7.3 boards, and a 133.7 offensive rating so far this month.
Krutwig’s potential stood out to Loyola coaches and players since he arrived on campus last summer. After one workout, he earned a major compliment from a noteworthy visitor. Milton Doyle, a former All-MVC player who signed a two-way NBA contract with the Brooklyn Nets this season, was back training with his old teammates. After the workout, Doyle walked off the court shaking his head and told Moser: “I wish I had been able to play with him.”
Krutwig owes that compliment, at least in part, to his family. His dad, Kevin, was the captain of his high school team. His older brother Conrad starred at Jacobs High School before Cam attended and then played at South Dakota and Wisconsin-Parkside. The height comes from his mom, Lori, who is 6 feet tall and whose father and brother are both 6’7”.
“My dad knows the game really well, and I grew up watching [Conrad] play,” Krutwig said. “I was always at his high school and AAU games as a kid. Even from a young age, I was always thinking of different ways to get the ball in the hoop. I feel like every time I step on the court I’m just trying to learn something – something to help us win or something to help me be better.”
Krutwig faced a big learning opportunity upon making a crucial error in a Jan. 31 game at Bradley. Trailing 69-67 with seconds left, Loyola had a golden opportunity to tie when Krutwig caught a pass from junior guard Marques Townes with two feet in the paint. Krutwig took one dribble down to the right block, but rather than go up he kicked it out to Clayton Custer for a wide-open three. 
The only problem was time had run out by the time Custer could release his shot, and the junior guard didn’t even get off a game-winning attempt. 
“I didn’t have to make a huge deal with it because he’s smart enough,” Moser said. “He knew right away. It was one of those things where we looked at it the next day on film, talked about it, and moved on. He’s smart enough to realize he should’ve just tried to score it.”
“Once he left that locker room, it was in the past,” senior guard Ben Richardson said, “and that’s just another example of how he’s far and away mature beyond his years.”
While the Ramblers are dangerous with an overall small roster – senior Donte Ingram is the second-tallest player in the 10-man rotation at 6’6” – finally having a legitimate post player has launched them from a perennial pest in the MVC to a heavy conference title favorite. 
Loyola had never finished better than 8-10 or higher than fifth place in its first four years in the MVC. The Ramblers were 0-21 against teams who finished first or second, including the conference tournament. During those four years, their tallest starter was 6’7”.
This year’s Loyola team plays big with Krutwig or small with 6’5” senior Aundre Jackson, who can drive and shoot as well as work for high-percentage shots around the rim. As they always have under Moser, the Ramblers spread the floor with shooters. This year’s shooters are an especially good bunch, shooting at a 41.5 percent clip from deep for the 7th best mark in Division I. 
“He creates so many shots for guys because he’s a big body and he knows how to screen and get us open,” Richardson said. “It’s been awesome.”
Krutwig’s best skills are arguably his passing and basketball IQ. He’s earned some comparison to Kevin McHale, and he was once even likened to Wes Unseld. Around the Valley, he’s has drawn comparisons to former Northern Iowa power forward Seth Tuttle, the 2014-15 MVC Player of the Year and a second team All-American who was feared for his ability to orchestrate offense and defense like a coach on the floor as much as for his physical skills. 
The combination of Krutwig’s size, physical skills, and mental savvy have allowed this team to flourish with the mantra of “offense is spacing, and spacing is offense,” something Moser learned as an assistant on the late Rick Majerus’ staff at Saint Louis and has used as a cornerstone of his coaching style at Loyola.
“We hadn’t had a true center,” Moser said. “Now we have that true center, but he can also step out and pass it. He’s so smart and quick with screening; he gets the ball moving. Having a big man anchoring the middle and having that presence has been a huge bonus for this style of play.”
Yoda has another famous quote: “Size matters not.” That’s one that Krutwig has disproved.