Former Stagg star Max Strus lets loose with a 3-point attempt during the preseason for the Miami Heat. Photo courtesy of the Miami Heat
Keeping the fire burning: Miami Heat’s Max Strus seeks to build on breakout season
By Jeff Vorva
After pouring in 24 points in a preseason game, Miami Heat guard Max Strus did a TV interview.
The 26-year-old Hickory Hills native and Stagg graduate was asked about helping young teammates.
“I’ve been in their shoes,” he said. “I know what it’s like to get waived, I know what it’s like to get signed; and I’m just trying to have a positive impact and walk them to the steps, and try to be a guide for them and help them along the way.”
Strus is still young, but it seems like he has seen his all.
His story from a successful career at Stagg to becoming a regular player on a perennial playoff that is considered one of the NBA’s model franchises is full of twists and turns. It’s almost like he is a 10-year veteran with all he has experienced.
The Heat were scheduled to open their 2022-23 season on Oct. 19, and Strus is taking nothing for granted. During an interview at his inaugural summer camp at Stagg, he expressed his appreciation for being in the league.
“I never doubted my ability to play in the NBA,” Strus said. “I think the only thing that I questioned throughout that process was if I would get another chance. There are only 450 players in the NBA, so getting an opportunity is very slim. Getting a second chance is even slimmer.
“That was the only thing I worried about. I never worried about if I could play or couldn’t play in the NBA. I always believed in myself.”
After graduating from Stagg in 2014, Strus played at Division II Lewis University in Romeoville before transferring to DePaul.
In 2019, his NBA adventure started when the undrafted free agent signed a contract with Boston. The Celtics released him and he signed with the Bulls, played 6 minutes over two games, then tore the ACL in his left knee during an NBA G-League game four days before Christmas.
For a player on the bottom of the NBA food chain, his career could have easily been over.
Strus didn’t think that way.
“My injury was a blessing in disguise,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to step back away from things and not have basketball in my life for a while. I did get lucky with COVID happening. I think I was probably the only person who liked COVID happening for that time being because there was no basketball. I wasn’t missing anything.
“I tried to look at is as a positive and make it the most positive situation I could get out of it and that was to get my body ready and get everything back to normal. I took that time to retrain and refigure how I was going to make myself an NBA player.”
Strus wasn’t feeling sorry for himself. Family and friends, however, were devastated at the turn of events.
“That was one of the hardest things — to see my family and friends feeling sad and bad for me,” he said. “I tried to remain positive whenever I was around them and in the public eye to show them that I’ll be fine.
“I didn’t want it to be a huge setback. Obviously, it was a major injury and everyone was worried. But I just tried to stay positive through it all and tried to get through it.”
He got through it. But the next step was also difficult: Getting an NBA team to take a chance on an undrafted free agent coming off a serious injury.
The Heat is on
Miami took that chance and, during the 2020-21 season, he stuck with the team after the preseason. He played in 39 games and averaged 13 minutes, averaging six points a game.
He stuck with the team again in 2021-2022, and if the holidays were lousy in 2019 around the Strus household, they were more than joyful in 2021.
Injuries were taking their toll on the Heat and Strus stepped in. He scored 20 points in one quarter en route to a 32-point game against Orlando on Dec. 17.
Strus became the first player in Heat history to score 100-plus points and hit 20-plus 3-pointers during a four-game span On Dec. 23, hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Detroit.
He’s been a mainstay ever since.
Giving hope to athletes
Strus’ high school coach, John Daniels, still keeps in contact with him. Daniels thinks Strus’ story can inspire others.
“This is something everyone around here should celebrate,” Daniels said. “It’s a story that give kids like him at Stagg, at Sandburg, at Andrew and all of the other area schools hope.
“They don’t have to play for the best AAU coach. They don’t have to travel around the country. They don’t have to quit playing other sports. He played baseball and was one of the best pitchers in the area. He gives hope to kids and if you work hard, you can be rewarded.”
Strus had to take a step back to reflect on the 2021-22 season
“It’s been a whirlwind of events this whole year,” he said. “There were a lot of ups and downs at the beginning. Then I was able to carve out my role in the NBA. I think I’m established now. I’ve earned that.
“I hope I keep earning that throughout my time. I’m really excited for the future and what that holds. I had a good year last year and I want to top that and keep advancing in my career.”
The Strus Rule
While he may be well known around the South Suburbs and Miami area for his play, casual basketball fans across the country know him as a guy in the middle of a controversy who helped get a ruled changed in the NBA.
In a Game 7 playoff battle with Boston, Strus hit a 3-point basket in the third quarter to slice the Celtics lead to 56-54. After three minutes of game time elapsed, officials declared that Strus’ heel was out of bounds and the three points were taken off the board, after much arguing.
The NBA changed the rules starting this season. The NBA Replay Center will illuminate a blue light if officials think a scoring change is necessary. Play will be stopped during a neutral moment.
Some people are already calling it the “Strus Rule.”
He’s going to live with that for a long time.
“I think every interview I’ve done and every time I talk to people, it always comes up,” Strus said. “It’s always going to be a thing in the back of people’s minds. Hopefully, we make it to the Finals and win the championship and we’ll never talk about it again.
“It’s funny, right after the game my brother [Stagg boys basketball coach Marty Strus] said, ‘At least you are going to have a rule named after you.’ Looking back on it, it stinks, but one possession is not going to determine a game. A lot of things happen along the way.”
Political sands shifting
Lopez mayoral exit leaves question marks By Tim Hadac The political sands of mayoral politics shifted last week, leaving many in Clearing and Garfield Ridge asking “What next?” questions. Garfield Ridge native Lopez worked the neighborhoods hard since he announced his mayoral candidacy back in April. His law-and-order stance and sharp criticism of Mayor Lori…
Boys Basketball: Marist, Brother Rice stay unbeaten through two weeks
By Steve Millar Correspondent Marist came into the season with some question marks after losing a pair of key players to transfers and elevating several newcomers, including three freshmen, to the varsity roster. The young RedHawks are, however, off to a blazing 6-0 start. They held on for a 57-55 win on the road Nov.…
Local Hoops Wrap: Transfers shining for Saint Xavier in early going
By Jeff Vorva Staff Writer The transfer portal is turning college athletics upside down, and Saint Xavier men’s basketball coach Robert Ford is enjoying it. And taking advantage of it. Jaeden King came to SXU in 2021 after transferring from NCAA Division II Tiffin University. Prior to that he played at Western Illinois. He is…
Area Sports Roundup: College of DuPage repeats as national football champ
By Jeff Vorva Staff Writer The College of DuPage, the only junior college in Illinois with a football program, won its second straight National Junior College Athletic Association national championship with a 14-12 victory over North Dakota State College of Science in Glen Ellyn. Former Richards’ standout Marquel Porter caught a 25-yard pass for the…
Dems, GOP need to have more respect
By Rich Miller The state legislative debate last week over amending the Pre-Trial Fairness Act provisions within the controversial SAFE-T Act featured many of the same obfuscations and outright misinformation that characterized the fall campaign by Republicans and many of the same insufficient answers by Democrats. One of the problems that the super-majority Democrats have…
Godspeed, Officers Verta and Harrison
By Joan Hadac Your correspondent in Clearing and Garfield Ridge (708) 496-0265 • [email protected] It’s always good to know that even in these challenging times, there are men and women are willing to step forward to brave those challenges. And leave it to Garfield Ridge and Clearing to lead the way. I say that as I…
Evergreen Park honors longtime employee
By Joe Boyle The Evergreen Park Village Board took care of some local business before Thanksgiving Day meals will be served. James Bender, a 27-year employee of the Evergreen Park Public Works Department, was selected as the “Employee of the Quarter” and honored at the village board meeting on Monday night. Mayor Kelly Burke recognized Bender…
Oak Lawn officials say pension relief will not hinder homeowners
By Joe Boyle Oak Lawn Village Manager Tom Phelan said the finances of homeowners need to be addressed while paying off pension deficits. Phelan said during the Oak Lawn Village Board meeting on November 22 that making budget adjustments for next year has to keep residents in mind due to rising inflation. “We may be…
2 men arrested for Lyons carjacking were out on bond
By Bob Bong Lyons police on Thursday arrested two men suspected of being involved in an attempted carjacking in the 7700 block of 45th Place around 2 p.m. on November 29. Justin Lebron, 20, of Cicero, and Cesar Lopez, 18, of Waukegan, were captured after a foot case, police said. Police Chief Tom Herion said…
Shepard, Stagg teams honor Ryan Plowman
Varsity girl basketball teams from Stagg and Shepard took time out before Monday night’s contest to pay tribute to Shepard student Ryan Plowman, who died earlier this year of complications from mononucleosis. Proceeds from the concession stand were donated to a gofundme campaign in Ryan’s name.
State elections board certifies 2022 results
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Elections certified its election results Monday, putting the final stamp on another Democratic sweep of statewide offices. The board reported that 4,142,642 out of 8,115,751 registered voters cast ballots in the election, a turnout of roughly 51 percent. That’s down from…
Tax credits, prison reform pass in veto session
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Illinois lawmakers last week passed significant legislation dealing with electric vehicle manufacturing incentives and the availability of hygiene products for prisoners in the state’s correctional system. But some weightier issues, including a possible assault weapons ban, will wait until a lame duck session scheduled for early…
CAPITOL RECAP: SAFE-T Act changes head to Pritzker; unemployment debt deal advances
By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers on Thursday passed a long-awaited amendment to the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform’s provisions that will eliminate cash bail when the calendar hits 2023. The measure expands the list of crimes for which a judge can order pretrial detention, adds to what a judge can consider when determining…
Lawmakers advance $1.8 billion unemployment fund bailout
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – On the final day of their fall veto session, Illinois lawmakers on Thursday advanced a pair of bills that would infuse $1.8 billion into the state’s unemployment trust fund, which was depleted during the economic shutdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bipartisan agreement came…
Pretrial detention changes to SAFE-T Act will head to governor
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers on Thursday passed a long-awaited amendment to the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform’s provisions that will eliminate cash bail when the calendar hits 2023. The measure expands the list of crimes for which a judge can order pretrial detention, adds to what a judge can…
Contempt citations against DCFS director reversed by appellate court
By BETH HUNDSDORFER Capitol News Illinois [email protected] An appellate court on Wednesday reversed several contempt of court citations that were filed in recent months against Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith for failing to comply with court orders to place state wards in appropriate settings. The court found that Smith did not…
State lawmakers pass measure limiting state investment in Russian assets
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House gave final passage Wednesday to a bill aimed at prohibiting state investment in assets tied to Russia and Belarus in retaliation for their participation in the war in Ukraine. House Bill 1293, by Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, D-Chicago, urges the state’s five retirement systems…
Changes to cash bail statute surface before Thursday’s planned adjournment
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Two days before lawmakers were scheduled to adjourn for the year, one of the lead negotiators of the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform filed a long-awaited amendment detailing several changes to the landmark cash bail overhaul. Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, filed a 308-page amendment to House…
CAPITOL RECAP: State announces deal to pay down remaining unemployment debt
By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers on Tuesday announced a bipartisan plan to use state revenues to pay down the remaining $1.4 billion in debt taken on by the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The unemployment trust fund is generally funded by the state’s businesses through insurance premiums collected via…
Lawmakers announce bipartisan plan to pay down remaining unemployment debt
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers on Tuesday announced a bipartisan plan to use state revenues to pay down the remaining $1.4 billion in debt taken on by the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the agreement is expected to move through the General Assembly this…