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A crowd gathered at Scott Trost’s home in suburban Chicago to watch the NBA playoffs last Friday night between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls. The game had special meaning for Trost, the head men’s basketball coach at Lewis University, a Division II college in Romeville, Ill., with about 4,000 undergraduate students.

Trost was hosting a recruit that weekend, hoping to convince him to sign the flyer. And Trost is excited to watch former Lewis star and current Heat starter Max Struss play against his hometown Bulls in 2020.

Strus didn’t give up. He scored 31 points, including 7-of-12 on 3-pointers, as the Heat won 102-91 to advance to the playoffs and end the Bulls’ season.

“That was great to see,” Trost said with a laugh.

Strust’s performance was another reminder of how far Trost has come and how Strus has surpassed expectations over the years.

These days, Strus is a starter on an NBA playoff team, a guy who plays to sold-out arenas, travels on charter flights, stays in the best hotels and earns more than $1.8 million. That salary is sure to increase significantly after this season when Strus becomes an unrestricted free agent. But it wasn’t long before the player at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Palos Hills, Ill., about 30 miles southwest of Chicago, was overlooked.

Strus was 5-foot-9 as a sophomore, but grew to 6-foot-6 by his senior year, averaging 19 points and 9 rebounds per game and making third team All-State. However, Chicago State was the only Division I college to offer a scholarship.

Rather than sign with Chicago State, which was coming off a 13-19 season and ranked 284th out of 351 Division I teams in analyst Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, the Strauss decided to head to Lewis. Strus grew up 20 miles from Lewis, where his older brother Marty was a 6-foot-10 center and four-year starter at the school.

Trost and his assistants attended many of Strost’s high school and AAU games, making him a recruiting priority.

“We knew he was going to come in and be an immediate impact player for us,” Trost said. “You don’t see kids at this level do what he does, be 6-6 and shoot like he does. “We knew right away that we had a special player,” he said.

It didn’t take long for Strus to show what he could do. In the year On November 10, 2014, in an exhibition game against Division I Illinois State, Strus scored a game-high 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting, including 7-of-11 3-pointers. That season, Strus started all 31 games, averaged 13.3 points per game and was named the Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year.

Strus was even better as a high schooler. In his third season, he scored 52 points on 14-of-18 shooting, 12-of-14 3s and 12 free throws as Lewis beat Northwood on the road in front of 385 fans. Struss leads the team with 20.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, leading Lewis to the GLVC tournament title and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.

Three days after the season ended, Struss met with Trost in the coach’s office.

“He said he wants to go Big East, Big Ten or ACC and if he doesn’t go he’s going to come back,” Trost said.

Trost didn’t hesitate to let Strauss get out of school. Soon, several Division I colleges that had overlooked Strus out of high school were suddenly interested. Strus ended up signing with DePaul, a Big East school closer to home and with which he had family ties. His mother, Debra Strus, played basketball and volleyball at DePaul and was inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000.

“Selfishly, you want Max to stay, but I totally get it,” Trost said. “He did it the right way. He came in, he talked, he let me know what he was doing. I definitely supported him when he was trying to do it.

Unlike now, where first-time transfers are granted immediate eligibility, NCAA rules at the time required Strus to sit out a year. But when he returned for the 2017-18 season, he was just as effective as he was at Lewis.

In his two years at DePaul, Strus led the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game as a junior and 20.1 points per game as a senior. Still, Strus was not selected in the 2019 NBA Draft.

That July, the Boston Celtics signed Strus to a two-way contract, but traded him three months into the regular season. The Bulls then signed Strus to a two-way deal. Strus played sparingly in two games against the Bulls in November, but suffered a torn ACL and broken bones in his left knee in a G League game in December.

In the year As Strus recovered in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic halted games and practices, the Bulls cut him. The Heat signed him two-way in December 2020. Strauss played in 39 games off the bench that season, averaging 6.1 points in 13 minutes per game.

Last season, Strus saw more playing time, but mostly came off the bench before starting the final Sox games of the regular season and all 18 playoff games. Strus had 20 points in Game 5 and 11 rebounds in Game 6 to clinch the series in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Heat then lost the conference finals to the Boston Celtics in seven games.

This season, Strus again came off the bench for much of the season, but started the final five games of the regular season and both playoff games. He was on the starting line on Sunday when the No. 8 seed Heat upset the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks 130-117 in Game 1 of their first-round series. Strus finished with 8 points in 38 minutes.

On Wednesday night, the Heat and Bucks will play Game 2 in Milwaukee. Trost, Lewis’ former coach, also watches. He’s not a big NBA fan and doesn’t have time to watch Strus play much during the regular season because the college season is underway, but Trost enjoys the game and especially when Strus competes.

In his office in Lewis, Trost has an autographed Heat jersey from Trost, which Trost uses as an example of someone who is still working and getting better.

“It was good to coach,” Trost said. “He was a very hard worker and spent a lot of time in the gym by himself. He worked very hard to get where he is. He deserves everything he has,” he said.

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