Jacobs coach Roberts enjoys special bond with Loyola star Krutwig

Stuck in his hotel room Sunday following Loyola's 71-58 win over No. 1 seed Illinois in the NCAA Tournament, Cam Krutwig answered his phone.

Loyola's senior center had scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished 5 assists, all while playing excellent defense with 4 steals.

On the other end of the line? His high school coach from Jacobs, Jimmy Roberts, who made the trip to Indianapolis with several of Krutwig's family members and friends. That group was able to celebrate, going out to eat afterward before heading home.

"It's kind of surreal," Roberts said. "He's stuck in his room and can't do anything. I said to him, 'Are you are just watching ESPN and Twitter? How are you are staying sane?'

"I talked to him a long time. The world is literally blowing up about the kid and he's just sitting in his hotel room."

It would have been a surprise to Krutwig if he did not hear from Roberts. Since coming into Jacobs together eight years ago - Krutwig as a freshman and Roberts in his first-year as coach - the two have developed an incredibly tight relationship that goes far beyond a coach and player.

A day doesn't go by the two don't talk or text.

"I'm still coach but he's one of my closest friends," Roberts said. "I would say I talk to him on the phone more than anybody else except possibly my dad, and it's been a really special thing. That's a lot on him, he reaches out to me and we talk a lot of basketball (about) our program since he's been gone. Most of the time we are just talking as good friends. He knows my family so well, my daughters love him. It's been a really special thing."

A force on the court

The country is learning what Roberts has known for a long time - the 6-foot-9 Krutwig can play with anyone.

He has been racking up plenty of awards, from Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year to being named a third team All-American.

Every major program in the country wishes they had seen in Krutwig back in high school what Loyola did.

"He's always been so aware, had the right mindset," Roberts said, noting Krutwig committed to Loyola early.

"If Wisconsin, Northwestern ... if they come in now, why do they want me now? Are they just going to recruit someone else next year? Did they just miss out on someone they wanted and that's why they are recruiting me? ... He just wants to play. You can see it now. He's not concerned like so many other kids are about getting the biggest offer. He wanted to play and go into a situation where he felt comfortable and knew he was wanted. He's such a relationship guy."

That includes the relationships from high school and his close friends who will be making the trip back to Indianapolis for the Sweet 16 this weekend. Besides his parents and brother Conrad, expect to see former teammates Ryan Phillips, Josh Volenec, Jack Nickoley, Tim Leahy, Cooper Schwartz and Brian Recksteiner and their families, plus Roberts, assistant coach Jack Denny and former Jacobs AD Dan Vosnos, now at Lake Forest.

"I think you would be hard-pressed to have another player who would have that kind of following who had just maintained all these relationships and he's still true to the kid and person he is," Roberts said. "All these people just want to be part of it with him."

Big weekend awaits

Once again, Krutwig is shining brightest in the biggest moments. As a freshman, he helped fuel Loyola's Cinderella run to the Final Four. As a senior, he'll lead the Ramblers (26-4) into their matchup at 1:40 p.m. Saturday against Oregon State.

As they always do, Roberts and Krutwig will talk Xs and Os before the game. Oregon State better be ready for all the ways Krutwig can win a game - whether it's scoring, passing, rebounding or defense, all wrapped into a player with an incredibly high basketball IQ.

"It makes the game so fun to watch because I'm aware of everything they are trying to do," said Roberts, who knows what makes Krutwig such a high level player even if he might not have the athleticism or build of others.

"It's a lot of things you don't appreciate and people don't appreciate until you have him. He's the ultimate guy that makes people around him better. In high school why wasn't he recruited? He didn't ever average more than 15 points for us. He just makes people around him better.

"Defensively he's so smart, he makes other people better players and better people and that's what he's done there for four years. He just raises other people. He's just a special, special dude."

Roberts was in Atlanta in 2018 when the Ramblers beat Nevada and Kansas State to reach the Final Four. He'll be in Indianapolis this weekend hoping history repeats.

As happy as Roberts is to see Krutwig's success on the court, it's the friendship with his former player that means the most.

"I get all these texts and get these congratulations, I don't know if that's the right thing to say," Roberts said. "What the hell did I do? I'm just a supporter at this point.

"The biggest thing is I have a really good friend and someone I care about a lot and I can't imagine someone I'd be more invested in his success other than my daughters.

"I'm all in with him and their team. You lose yourself in the experience and care so much about every possession. It wouldn't be as special if we didn't have the relationship we have. It has become so much more than a coach and a former player. He's like a part of my family."

Loyola's Cameron Krutwig visits with Briley, the daughter of Jimmy Roberts, his high school coach. Courtesy of Jimmy Roberts
Jacobs players, including Adam Kale and Cam Krutwig, celebrate behind coach Jimmy Roberts as the clock winds down on the 2017 Elgin Sectional championship victory. Daily Herald file photo
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