Area Male Athlete: PR-B's Struss at home in middle of action
Zach Struss Year: Junior School: Pine River-Backus Sport: Basketball Position: Forward Highlights: Finished with 22 points and seven rebounds against Pequot Lakes, 16 points and six rebounds against Nevis, 15 points and 10 rebounds against Kellih...
School: Pine River-Backus
Highlights: Finished with 22 points and seven rebounds against Pequot Lakes, 16 points and six rebounds against Nevis, 15 points and 10 rebounds against Kelliher/Northome
Consider the area around the free throw line Zach Struss' pocket.
Like the pocket offensive linemen in football produce to protect quarterbacks, which Struss happens to be during the fall season, that small area on a basketball court is where Struss dissects opposing defenses for the Pine River-Backus Tigers basketball team.
Whether it's shooting the 10-to-15 foot jumper, finding an open teammate or driving to the basket, Struss has options. And as any quarterback will tell you, it's nice to have options.
"I think being a quarterback and being a leader it helps with your confidence to knock down a jump shot," said Struss. "It's also similar in that I'm able to find the open teammate. If the ball comes into me in the middle of the lane, I can kick it back out to a teammate for an open 3. It's real nice. It's how we get a lot of points."
Struss tallied 22 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals during the Tigers' 71-66 victory over Pequot Lakes Feb. 2. He followed that with a 16-point, six-rebound and three-assist performance against Nevis in a 52-48 victory.
"The Pequot game was a crazy game because it was the first time we've beaten them in a long time," said Struss. "Everyone was real excited to get that win."
During the Tigers' 70-61 Northland Conference loss to Kelliher/Northome, Struss tallied 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. While the junior is not a point guard or ball handler, he is a playmaker.
"Basically Zach is a very good high-post 15 feet and in player," said Tigers head coach John Riewer. "That is his game. He's an excellent passer from the high post. He's a smart player and very much a team player.
"He's one of the best passers on our team. If we get the ball in the high post, he can make things happen. He can drain the 15-footer or he's very good at kicking it back out for the 3-point shot. He has an uncanny ability to find the open guy if defenses try to converge on him too hard."
Through 23 games, Struss is averaging 16.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.7 steals a game. He's shooting 54 percent from the field and 72 percent from the line. He doesn't have any blocks according to the stat sheet, but that may be because Struss isn't a big man despite playing a big man's position. Struss stands 6-foot-1.
"I'm pretty small for a big man, but I've always been a big man," Struss said. "I work on my game during the offseason by going to a lot of camps. It's always been pretty tough, but I just have to work hard. A lot of guys don't expect me to be able lt handle it, but I just try hard."
PR-B lost to Crosby-Ironton 71-52 Jan. 27, but it was just a 3-point game with eight minutes remaining. That's when Struss fouled out. Struss called it a tough battle against C-I's twin towers of Daniel Hudrlik and Noah Gindorff.
"That game I played a lot differently," he said. "I shot the 15-footer instead of attacking the basket."
Said Riewer about that game: "When Struss fouled out, the game was over. Not that we're a one-man show, but he's an important piece to us. We need to keep him on the floor.
"What has surprised me most about Zach is how well he can hit that 15-foot jump shot. He's quiet about it, too. After a game, I'll look at the scorebook and I'll be amazed at how many points he has. He scores quietly, but he's always around the basket and the ball. He's only 6-1, but he plays a lot better than that. He rebounds well for his size."
Struss became a member of the Tigers' 1,000-point club during a 62-49 win over Verndale Jan. 13. He posted 17 points, 10 rebounds and two steals in the game.
"I guess that kind of was a goal of mine," said Struss. "Going into the season I knew I was close, but we lost the books. My parents did the research and we knew I was pretty close so I guess coming into the season that was one of my goals
"But I just wanted to work hard and be a team player and help the team go as far as we can. We always set our goal to get to state. This group of players has always believed we could really make it that far."
Other notable performances:
Basketball: Micah McGaffey, Lake Region, finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds against Northland.
Andrew Israelson, Staples-Motley, scored 26 points against Melrose.
Blake Connell, Staples-Motley, finished with 24 points against Melrose.
CJ Borleis, Pequot Lakes, scored 20 points against Pine River-Backus and 25 against Roseau.
Chris Ramsey, Pillager, finished with 25 points against Menahga.
Hockey: Landon Bjorge, Little Falls, scored two goals and assisted on another against Mora.
Wrestling: Jack Braton, Tyler Bare, Jake Pederson, Noah Landrus and Alan Bast, Aitkin, captured Great River Conference individual championships
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop .