LAKE ZURICH — Standing just 5-foot-6 as a freshman, Brad Kruse grew up playing point guard.
Kruse, now a senior, still handles the ball for Lake Zurich — only he’s sprouted to 6-foot-4.
Kruse is one of Lake Zurich’s exceptionally tall starting guards — juniors Jack O’Neill and Mike Travlos are each listed at 6-foot-3. That size in the backcourt gives the Bears flexibility other teams don’t have, particularly on the defensive end.
“If everyone can guard every player on the court, it doesn’t matter,” O’Neill said. “We can switch everything.”
Lake Zurich showed how effective that strategy can be in the second half against Mundelein Dec. 4. Leading by seven points at halftime, the Bears began to alter their defensive assignments.
“We were switching a lot of screens because you’ve got a 6-5 big guy but a 6-3 guard, so it doesn’t make much of a difference” whom each player defends, said Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher.
The maneuver helped Lake Zurich keep Mundelein players from getting open looks at the basket and also forced a number of turnovers.
“When we switch we can get into passing lanes,” Kruse said. “Then we can get some transition going the other way.”
Lake Zurich outscored Mundelein 45-13 in the second half after giving up 29 points in the first half.
Placing the ball in the hands of such tall players also offers advantages on offense. Against a team like Mundelein that runs a full-court press, the Bears are able to, as Pitcher put it, “pass through the press instead of dribbling.”
“You can see over guys a lot easier and pass the ball if you’re getting trapped,” O’Neill said. “Everyone can handle [the pressure] too.”
The guards do much more than pass — Kruse, O’Neill and Travlos all took turns bringing the ball up the court against Mundelein’s man-to-man pressure — but their height does offer an advantage over smaller defenders.
“It’s easier to see over the little guards that are guarding you to get into the offense,” Kruse said.
When one of the guards is defended by a smaller player, Pitcher has his squad exploit the matchup.
“We can post up our guards,” Kruse said. “We have a few plays we can run to get me or Mike [Travlos] in the post to take advantage of a size mismatch.”
“Usually whenever we have a mismatch we like to call a four-high,” said Travlos, who scored on a hook shot in the third quarter over a Mundelein defender several inches shorter than him. “Which lets us get the guard … get the ball in the post and let him go to work.”