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Men’s Basketball Senior spotlight

Loyola’s living legend

Senior men’s basketball co-captain Cameron Krutwig anchors the Ramblers as the team shoots for a postseason even greater than 2018

Everybody remembers their first. For Drew Valentine, Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball assistant coach, it was an exhibition against Lewis University on a Saturday night in October 2017. He’d been hired that June, moving from Oakland University to work under head coach Porter Moser. His new employer hadn’t finished above .500 in conference play in 10 years, hadn’t won a conference regular season championship in 30 years, and hadn’t qualified for the NCAA tournament since 1985. Lewis was not exactly a hot ticket either. Valentine thinks there were “probably 40 people” in the stands. 

One of them was Valentine’s father, Carlton, who drove in for his son’s Loyola coaching debut. Carlton was a letterman at Michigan State, an overseas professional, and champion head coach at Michigan’s J.W. Sexton High School. His younger son, Denzel, now plays for the Bulls. Carlton is a man who knows a thing or two about hoops. And his scouting report that night could not have been more accurate: Cameron Krutwig, then a freshman from Algonquin, Illinois, would be an All-American someday. “My dad said that after the first time seeing him!” Valentine says. “It’s crazy.” 

You could have excused the layperson for not reaching a similar conclusion. Krutwig was ranked 348th in his recruiting class, a southpaw who could not make a three-pointer to save his life. He received scholarship offers from the likes of Lehigh, American, and Alabama-Birmingham. He knew “honestly nothing” about Loyola before Moser reached out, except that their gym—pre-renovation—felt “a little old, kind of shabby.” He was babyfaced and flabbier than many Division I forwards. He bounded around on the balls of his feet. “A lot of people remember me from my freshman year,” he says now. “You know, that awkward kid, a funny guy.” 

Krutwig made up for his deficiencies in other ways. Valentine hadn’t seen him compete on the high school summer circuit but was immediately struck by his quick feet, his sharp intellect, and his work ethic. Moser inserted Krutwig into the starting lineup four games into his freshman campaign. Since then, he’s suited up 125 times (through March 1), and has started all but once. “That much polish, that much knowledge and feel—it’s just so rare,” Valentine says. 

That 2017-18 freshman season began with promise and ended with a miraculous Final Four appearance. His senior campaign has all the makings, too—in February, the Ramblers (21-4, 16-2) entered the AP Top 25, the first time the program has been slotted into a regular-season poll in 36 years. They've already won their third Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) regular season title in four seasons and at least 18 games for the fifth straight. They lead the entire nation in both scoring defense and defensive efficiency, and sit at 16th in the NCAA’s proprietary NET rankings. A deep run through March Madness is not guaranteed, especially during a pandemic, but it’s absolutely conceivable. 

What’s absolutely guaranteed? Krutwig will go down as one of the University’s greats, the only Rambler to finish his career in Loyola’s top-10 in points, rebounds, and assists. Nobody has been more crucial to Loyola’s emergence as a mid-major basketball power. Cam is at the center of every frame. 

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That much polish, that much knowledge and feel—it’s just so rare.”
- Drew Valentine, Loyola men’s basketball assistant coach, on Cameron Krutwig's prowess on the court

Krutwig’s growth is straightforward—there aren’t bells or whistles. He entered college as a quick study and a precise passer and layered on top professional-level strength training and an appreciation for Moser’s tactical minutiae. On offense, he presents opponents with a brutal choice—leave him alone to feast at the rim or throw double-teams in his direction, thereby opening space for Loyola’s cutters and shooters. Only Iowa’s Luka Garza is more efficient creating points while using as many of his team’s possessions; he’s the reigning national player of the year. 

On the other end of the floor, Valentine points to Krutwig’s ball-screen defense, once a liability and now—faster, sneakier—a bona fide strength. “I’m trying to be the loudest guy around,” Krutwig says. “I watched what the guys before me did, took little bits and pieces that I liked, and created my own style.” 

He’s thrived academically, too, majoring in entrepreneurship at the Quinlan School of Business and earning two MVC scholar-athlete first-team selections. April Lane Schuster, a clinical professor of entrepreneurship, sees obvious parallels between the locker room and the Quinlan classroom: “We talk about concepts; we talk about theories. But then it’s about the application of those theories. You have to be willing to put yourself out there, be in uncomfortable situations, be constantly problem-solving and coming up with new ideas. With sports, you’re also making split-second decisions. It’s a constantly changing environment.” 

The club that Krutwig anchors is built similarly to the 2018 Final Four team, but it’s deeper, older, and sturdier on defense. In style and makeup, there’s actually a stronger resemblance to Brad Stevens’ 2010 Butler Bulldogs, who fought their way out of a lower league and came one half-court heave away from a national title. “The experience we have stands out,” Valentine says. “We can do a lot of different things game-planning or in practice, pushing the boundaries on their minds and intelligence and their commitment.” 

There are weapons up and down the roster—standbys like senior captain Lucas Williamson, former blue-chip recruits, and skilled transfers from every direction. In their first 20 games, eight different players led at least one game in points. They’re not particularly tall (273rd nationally in average height), and they rarely rebound their own misses, but they know what it takes to win when it counts. 

They’re also getting adjusted to the unusual rhythms of a season marked by COVID-19. When the schedule forces them to play on back-to-back days, Krutwig remembers to hydrate, to “get a banana in ya.” On the road, they’re bonding in hotels, where it’s safest. The eerie feeling of playing in empty venues has mostly worn off. (Valentine loses his voice just as he would in a sold-out arena.) In short, they’re taking everything day by day, just like the rest of us. “We can’t get too high or low,” Krutwig says. “We want to stay right there in the middle, and keep grinding.” 


Cameron Krutwig's career points, sixth all-time


Krutwig's career rebounds, ninth all-time


Krutwig's win shares, ninth nationally


Loyola's national rank in scoring defense


National rank in adjusted defensive efficiency


National rank in scoring margin

The national media swarmed in mid-February, realizing almost simultaneously how special this version of the Ramblers might be. The data website FiveThirtyEight pulled out their trusty calculators. The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times laid out the MVC title race particulars. Sports Illustrated focused on the team’s “culture,” that nebulous concept Moser covets so deeply. CBS Sports even went long on Krutwig’s unusual harmonica habits. (“Imagine someone trying to shred a guitar solo. The body contortion, moving around like that, imagine that. But with a harmonica.”) 

And inside Gentile, The Athletic’s Brian Hamilton tried to pinpoint precisely what has and hasn’t changed since those heady days of 2018. Time keeps passing, for one. A thin layer of haze is creeping over those memories from San Antonio, vivid as they are. “It does feel kind of long ago,” Krutwig admits. 

When he gives himself permission to reminisce, he draws confidence from that experience in the limelight. He was there. He was the guy who Moser turned to coming out of the halftime break, up seven in the national semifinal. He was the guy who backed down Michigan’s Moe Wagner, went up and under for an acrobatic three-point play. He was the guy who hit the deck, slid a few feet on his rump, thumped his chest, and let loose a primal scream in front of 70,000 people. (Cue Grant Hill: “I’m not sure how he got that to go!”) 

Krutwig was also the guy who, on the subsequent possession, whiffed badly on a Wagner pump fake and watched helplessly as the future NBA pro blew past him for a monster dunk. Michigan outscored Loyola 47-28 in the second half that night, ripping out the hearts of the Rambler faithful in the process. Krutwig finished with 17 points and six rebounds. He also turned it over six times and made defensive miscues he’d rarely make again. 

He’s older now, leaner. His game is more refined. Don’t for a second think he’s not ready for more. “I didn’t leave. I didn’t go anywhere. I’m still the same guy,” he says. “Now we’ve got another chance to write our own story.” 

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A season of sacrifice

What does basketball season look like during a global pandemic? Learn more about how the Ramblers adapted to COVID-19 protocols this season.