NBA standout Max Strus signs a shoe for one of the players at his camp at Stagg High School. Photo by Jeff Vorva

NBA standout Max Strus signs a shoe for one of the players at his camp at Stagg High School. Photo by Jeff Vorva

‘Every year just keeps getting better’: Max Strus holds annual youth camp at Stagg

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By Jeff Vorva
Staff Writer

Things have changed a lot since Max Strus held his inaugural basketball camp last summer.

During that camp, he was a starting guard for the Miami Heat, which had just come off an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Boston Celtics.

This summer’s camp ran July 17-20 at Stagg — where Strus starred during his high school years — but he came in as a Cleveland Cavalier after having inked a sign-and-trade deal with Miami for four years worth $63 million. He came off a season with the Heat that barely eked and squeaked its way into the playoffs, then made a run to the NBA Finals before losing to the Denver Nuggets in five games.

“It feels like every year just keeps getting better,” Strus said during a break between camp sessions. “This year was awesome. It was unbelievable playing in the Finals. It stunk to come up short but I’m super happy and grateful for the experience. And I’m ready to be in Cleveland now.”

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Max Strus with one of the youths who attended his annual basketball camp at Stagg. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Strus had some high and low points in the postseason. He scored 31 points and hit an NBA play-in-game record seven 3-pointers to help the Heat beat the Chicago Bulls to grab the eighth seed in the East; but also endured a few scoreless games in the Finals. He netted 14 points in the Heat’s lone win against the Nuggets.

He pointed out it was much more intense to play in an NBA Finals than the conference finals.

“At that time of the year, everyone knows your strengths and weaknesses and they try to put your weaknesses out on the table, and you just have to overcome it,” he said. “They were a good team and they ended up getting the best of us.

“It was a fun experience and something I’ll always remember, and hopefully I can get back there one day.”

The weeks leading up to the postseason were tense, with Miami being at risk of failing to even make the playoffs. The Heat had just one goal after a mediocre regular season — just get in the tournament.

“All we wanted was a chance,” Strus said. “We didn’t care where we were ranked or where we finished. We just wanted to be in the playoffs.

“It took us awhile to get there but once we got in the playoffs, we knew that with the talent we had on our team and our overall togetherness as a team we could outlast a lot of teams.”

Individually, Strus had personal bests during the regular season in games played (80), points (11.5), rebounds (3.2) and assists (2.1), and he continues to be a threat beyond the 3-point arc. Although his 3-point percentage dipped from 41 percent in 2021-22 to 35 percent this past season, he buried a career- high 197 treys in 2022-2023.

It all added up to a big payday, something he is still blown away by.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Strus said. “It hasn’t hit me yet. I haven’t gotten a dollar of it yet. I won’t get a dollar until November.

“Over the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to put myself in a position to get this. Everything happens for a reason, and I worked hard to get it. I’m grateful and happy that it’s Cleveland and I’m ready for that opportunity.”

Strus has come a long way since the 2019-20 season, when the former Lewis and DePaul star was on the bottom rung of the NBA hierarchy. That season, he played two games with the Chicago Bulls and suffered a torn ACL on Dec. 21.

He vowed to come back and he did — stronger than ever.

Speaking of coming back, the Hickory Hills native said he loves coming back home for the camp in his name. For the second year in a row, he brought former Heat teammate Gabe Vincent to help coach.

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Former Marist standout Julia and Kate Ruzevich were among many volunteer coaches at the Max Strus Camp. Photo by Jeff Vorva

Some of the other coaches include former Marist and Lindenwood College stars Julia and Kate Ruzevich, former Stagg coach John Daniels, current Stagg coach and older brother Marty Strus, and former St. Rita standout Morez Johnson, who will be a senior at Thornton and has made a verbal commitment to Illinois. Johnson remembers attending camps hosted by Jabari Parker, who played in the NBA from 2014-2022.

Proceeds from the camp, which was opened to grade school boys and girls, benefit the Weish4Ever Foundation, which helps families affected by cancer.

“This is something I’m looking forward to every year,” Strus said of the camp. “I’ve been waiting for this day. It’s great to be back at home and being in the community and sharing my knowledge and love of the game with the kids.

“They make it enjoyable. I have more fun than they do being here. It’s awesome to be able to share that with them.”

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Young campers go through drills at the Max Strus Basketball Camp at Stagg High School. Photo by Jeff Vorva

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