CHICAGO — Max Strus is so Chicago that he might end up catching a shout out on a Chance the Rapper track some day. Strus, a native of the Windy City, played high school ball at Amos Alonzo Stag High School in Palos Hills, spent a few years at D-II Lewis University in Romeoville, and wrapped up his collegiate career at DePaul, where he had a pair of productive campaigns and earned a second-team All-Big East selection as a senior.
While he left Chicago to have a cup of coffee with the Boston Celtics — first in Summer League, then on a two-way, then on a standard deal — he needed a place to play following the team’s decision to cut him four days before the start of the season. Fortunately for him, he was given the chance to go home, as he inked a two-way deal with the Bulls.
It hasn’t quite been storybook, because Strus is currently sitting on the sideline as he recovers from an ACL tear he suffered during a Windy City Bulls game. But between his big numbers in the G League — 18.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists in 34.9 minutes per game — and the pair of games he played for his hometown team back in November, Strus has gotten to live out every Chicago hoops fan’s dream.
With the NBA descending on the Windy City for All-Star Weekend this year, Dime sat down with Strus during an event at the Nieman Marcus on the city’s Magnificent Mile. Beyond his love for Chicago, Strus talked about his game, what Derrick Rose means to him, and more.
You played at DePaul, you’re with the Bulls now, how’s it feel to be repping Chicago at All-Star Weekend?
I love it. This is the best city in the world, can’t beat it. Grew up here, went to school here, I’ve never left. I’m a big family guy, family-oriented, that’s why I went to DePaul, be close to home. And to be able to play professionally is a dream come true, but to do it in your own city is even more special. I love being here, unfortunately I got hurt this year, but I’ll be back soon and hopefully the Bulls give me another opportunity.
You said it right there, you said Chicago’s the best city in the world. I’m a Jersey guy, if someone were to come to Chicago for this weekend, why would you say you’re in the best city in the world?
It just is. There’s just so much you can do, anywhere you go, you’re gonna have a good time. You’re never gonna get bored, there’s just so much to do in this city. It’s a big city, but a small space, the people are awesome here. It’s just a great place to be.
Guessing you grew up a huge Bulls fan.
Yeah. Well, yeah, I’m a Bulls fan, but I wasn’t like huge. Big Derrick Rose guy, I liked Derrick Rose.
He’s put on for Chicago for how long now. What does it to mean to wear the jersey for your city, the one Derrick Rose wore?
It’s special. You grew up wearing Bulls jerseys just because you were a fan, and being here, going to games. Now you’ve got little kids coming to games to watch you, it’s really cool and really unique to have the ability to play in your own hometown.
What does Derrick Rose mean to you as someone who came up in Chicago?
Means everything. He was basketball for me, he was what I grew up watching. I didn’t have Michael Jordan because I was too young, and obviously you’ve got guys like LeBron and stuff. But for me, it was Derrick Rose. I thought he was the greatest player ever before he got hurt, and even now, I think he’s back to normal and looking good. I’ve had the ability to build a connection, I know him now and I’ve worked out with him a couple times. Just meeting him and knowing the person he is and how much he cares about what he does has made it even more special.
Another Chicago guy I wanna ask about is Jabari Parker, what does he mean to you?
Yeah, I work out with Jabari too.
There you go. Is it you, Derrick, Jabari, all the Chicago guys?
We’ve all got the same trainer. Not that we work out together but we’ll be in the gym at the same time, or he’s leaving and I’m walking in. We always see each other in the summer and stuff, our trainer’s awesome. Tim Anderson, he’s actually an assistant coach at DePaul. He’s got me involved with them and they’re great guys to have as role models and guys to look up to and help you out and find your way in the league.
Let’s talk Bulls a bit. It seems like they’re trying to build that foundation, get back to a certain point. What role do you hope to play in that?
That was part of the reason I went to DePaul, because I saw an opportunity to make it great again. Obviously didn’t get to the level I wanted it to, but I think, myself and other teammates, we started a trend of DePaul basketball getting better. I thought it was gonna lead into it, they were 12-1 this year and had a rough time since then. I think it’s a great opportunity and hopefully if I get a chance next year to be with them, we can bring Chicago back up, because basketball in Chicago is so important to people. Everybody here wants the Bulls to be great, so if you can be a part of that, you’ll be a Chicago legend forever.
Someone sits you down and says, “Max, we wanna bring you back to the Bulls, what can you bring to this team,” what’re you gonna say?
A guy who’s gonna play hard every night, give it his all, make shots, defend, and just be committed to making it better. Just do everything I can to help turn the organization around and try to be who’s a stepping stone to a brighter future.
You would have been what, middle school, high school for those Thibs and Rose and Deng teams, so you know what it means when the Bulls are at that level.
Everybody loved it, yeah.
How important do you think it is for the franchise to have a guy who has that understanding of what the Bulls mean to Chicago?
I think it means a lot. I’ve seen it happen, I’ve seen what it does to the city. When things are good, I’ve seen the White Sox win a World Series, I’ve seen the Cubs win a World Series, the Bulls being good in the playoffs, the city just elevates and the electricity is unbelievable. It’s something that you wanna be around and something I hope I can help create.
White Sox or Cubs?
I’m a White Sox guy.
You’re gonna make the World Series before the Cubs do, right?