CHICAGO – To opponents, he’s only a freshman. But to Loyola point guard Clayton Custer, he’s a “leader.”
When the Ramblers began playing pickup basketball games among themselves over the summer, Custer noted how impressed he and his teammates were with Cameron Krutwig’s willingness to communicate at both ends of the court. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound Krutwig credited that to learning the significance of pregame preparation at Jacobs High School.
“With coach Jimmy Roberts and all those guys, every game we had a scout sheet, we’d write down personnel, and then we’d write down their actions,” Krutwig said. “If I know the game plan, maybe I can help another guy that might not in the moment of a play and forgets, ‘Oh, man, we were supposed to do this on the ball-screen.’ I can talk to him and say, ‘Next play, we’re gonna do this.’”
The Algonquin native has helped push Loyola (17-4, 7-2) atop the Missouri Valley Conference, as he’s averaging 9.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and two assists a game while shooting 56.6 percent from the field as its starting center. Ramblers coach Porter Moser said Krutwig’s ability to pass out of the post is what originally attracted him to the three-star recruit during his sophomore season at Jacobs.
Nevertheless, Krutwig also made immense improvements to his physique once he arrived at the school’s Lake Shore Campus, dropping 35 pounds over a four-month span. Moser’s 5:45 a.m. “boot camp,” which consisted of warm-ups, defensive drills and conditioning over two five-day periods in mid-September, aided his progress. He and his teammates then would return to the gym after their classes for another workout and an occasional practice.
“The first day (of the boot camp), it was just an eye-opener,” Krutwig said. “This is a whole new level from high school. But that’s what brought us together a little bit more.”
Moreover, Krutwig cited how the coaching staff looked to run a slice of its offense through him from the get-go. Over the summer, he primarily was used in the low post with others cutting from the perimeter into the paint. Moser subsequently involved him in the high post and elbow area in the fall with the same aftereffect.
After Custer’s ankle injury in Loyola’s 65-59 upset win at then-ranked No. 5 Florida on Dec. 6 – the program’s first top-five win since 1984 – Krutwig went on to notch a season-high seven assists in a 24-point win over UIC. His teammates aided him in that department, too, as the Ramblers are tied with No. 1 Villanova and No. 4 Duke for the fourth-highest team field-goal percentage in college basketball (51 percent).
Krutwig continued to start once Custer returned Jan. 7, but he has entrenched himself as more of a scoring threat over the past four games, averaging 15.3 points a contest, along with nine rebounds a game.
“He’s really embracing getting lower and more leveraged and more physical on offense,” Moser said. “We wanted him to be a little bit more selfish, and now I think he’s thinking, ‘Hey, if I can win the battle of position and get a little deeper catch, I can go score it.’”
Loyola racked up victories in each of those matchups, aiding its six-game winning streak. During their impressive stretch, Custer acknowledged his and Krutwig’s increased chemistry in pick-and-roll situations. The redshirt junior said the two worked on plenty of give-and-go plays in practice once he fully recovered, which coincides with the beginning of the Ramblers’ run.
“It’s fun to play with him because he’ll catch it wherever you throw it to him,” Custer said. “It’s (pick-and-roll) been a really big part of our team.”
But in order for Loyola to sustain its success – and make its first trip to the NCAA tournament since the 1984-85 season – Krutwig said the team’s pressure defense must remain intact. The program ranks first in the conference in scoring margin (plus-9.6) as a result.
Until then, he’s said he’s just ecstatic to continue to see his parents at the remainder of the Ramblers’ home games in Gentile Arena, similar to his days at Jacobs.
“Everything that I could’ve imagined is happening right now,” Krutwig said.