By Conor Glennon ‘20
“Successful people do ordinary things better than everybody else.”
For Hickory Hills native Max Strus, this couldn’t be more true.
No flash. No hype. Just work. Strus, former basketball player at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School, was never one to get caught up in the opinions of everybody else. Maturely, Strus opted to put his focus and energy into basketball.
Strus, overlooked and underappreciated, did not gain much interest from Division I programs. Maybe a problem for many, but for Strus and his blue-collar work ethic, not so much. Strus, a homebody, settled to attend Lewis University. Lewis, a Division II basketball school, provided him with an incredible opportunity to grow and prove his case for playing at the Division I level. Strus embraced the challenge and enormous success leading to interest from several Division I programs.
Success is not always a straight shot to the finish line. Strus takes pride in his journey. He said, “Having to go through things the way I did has given me a greater perspective on things that many people don’t get the opportunity to have.”
Playing at the second highest collegiate level was a blessing in disguise. That elite level competition prepared him for the next leap in his journey: proving the people who doubted him wrong, but more importantly proving the people who believed in him right.
Strus is no stranger to adversity. As if attempting the jump to the highest collegiate level wasn’t enough, he elected to stay home and carry on a family tradition of athletic success at a not-so-successful DePaul University.
The low-esteem ridden Blue Demons struggled on the court for years prior, but this caused no panic for Strus. He said, “When you work hard, good things follow.” He carried this mindset along with an enormous chip on his shoulder to DePaul.
Strus, injured, was forced to redshirt and sit out his first season at DePaul. He watched patiently as the team continued to struggle.
Confident in turning the program around, Strus set the tone in his first season at DePaul. Playing in the brand new Wintrust Arena assisted in creating a fresh start for the team. After a solid campaign, Strus voiced his decision to test the NBA waters, while declaring for the upcoming draft. However, not hiring an agent benefited him in getting a feel for the next level and resulted in him returning to Depaul for his senior season.
Strus and the Blue Demons continued the path of ascension and scored more success than that the program has seen in recent years.
With the conclusion of his final season came the next leap that nobody ever expected: the NBA. Not even Strus could have predicted this one. He has always been a realist. He said, “My goal was always to play professionally, but for me, that meant going Division II then going overseas. The NBA was never really a thought for me in high school.” However, proving people wrong seems to be what he does best.
For any young hooper, hearing your name called on draft night by your hometown team is the ultimate dream. This time Strus may have ran out of luck. Strus never got to hear his name called. He didn’t get to live out walking across the stage at Barclays Center to shake Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand. But the story doesn’t end here.
Later on that night while the draftees were out celebrating, Strus waited patiently with high hopes of his phone ringing.
Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics executive, dialed up his phone and made a call. On the receiving end was the kid from Hickory Hills, the kid who wasn’t “good enough” to play at the Division I level after high school, the kid who dominated the Division II level, the kid who never cared how he was labeled, the kid who never lost his drive, the kid who never quit, and the kid who never lost his innate love for the game.
Strus, once again, humbly shuts up everybody who said he wasn’t good enough. Except, that didn’t matter. Instead, his work ethic, his patience, and his willingness to listen and learn trumped the naysayers.
Strus said, “One of my favorite memories in basketball is hearing Danny Ainge say that they were going to take me as a two-way player and realizing I was finally in the NBA.”
Strus began his NBA journey as a two-way player for the Boston Celtics. No stranger to hard work, he understood that he was going to have to work harder than ever to keep attaining his short-term goals.
After a successful summer league and pre-season, Strus was promoted to a partial guaranteed contract as a one-way Boston Celtic. It wouldn’t suit him if it was just that easy. So here is the catch – Strus is left to battle for the final roster spot.
Strus, unsuccessful, was waived by the Boston Celtics, forcing him to become a free agent just days before the final roster deadline. In the midst of confusion and panic, Strus shocks the world once again.
Hours before the deadline, Strus announced via Instagram that he has officially signed a two-way contract with the Chicago Bulls. The hometown kid finally seems to catch his break.
“Playing in Chicago and being around my family means everything to me. I have the best family in the world and I don’t want to be away from them. They have helped me reach this point in my career and will continue to help me. It’s always good to be home.” Strus is happy to play in front of the people who never lost hope in him.
Strus continues his journey as an NBA rookie for the Chicago Bulls. Despite being a rookie, he carries his journey with him every day as it separates him from other rookies. Strus is very fortunate to have as much experience as he does. Sure, Strus could settle and get comfortable, given that he finally made it proving people wrong once and for all.
But no, Strus has more in mind: “In 5 years, I want to be a starter in the NBA playing meaningful minutes on a good team. It will continue to take a lot of hard work and pushing myself every day to get there. Keep visualizing it and it will happen. It only takes one team to love you, so just find that team and make the most of my opportunities.”
Max Strus will continue to inspire kids and prove people wrong by continuing to conquer his goals on his journey living out his dreams.