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The Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade called it home during his college career. So did the Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler.
Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Kevin Durant have all played at the BMO Harris Bradley Center since it opened in 1988.
On Friday, the players on the Lake Zurich boys basketball team added themselves to that list. Lake Zurich had the chance to take the short trip north to Milwaukee and the boys made the most of the experience. Brad Kruse scored a team-high 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a 46-38 victory over Johnsburg during the 22nd annual Milwaukee Bucks Prep Basketball Series.
“It was a great experience to play on such a big stage,” Kruse said.
This was the second consecutive year the Bears (7-9) played at the Bradley Center. Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher first took part in the series when he was a freshman coach at Libertyville. In fact, when the Wildcats played in Milwaukee he was assigned to be the public address announcer for the game.
Since all of the fans sit behind the two benches – the same side where the scorer’s table is – Pitcher was making announcements to a sea of blue seats.
“My heart was pounding,” Pitcher said. “You looked out past the floor and didn’t see a soul but you heard your voice echoing throughout the big arena.”
Prior to the game, the Lake Zurich boys had the chance to tour the Bucks’ locker room. During the first half, the Bears played a bit like the Bucks of late and trailed throughout the first two quarters. But in the second half, Lake Zurich began attacking the basket and drawing fouls.
The Bears scored more than half their points at the line, converting 26 of 34 attempts. Senior Ryan Roach scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
“We’ve emphasized being more aggressive and we found ways to get to the free-throw line,” Pitcher said.
Both teams substituted liberally and every player on each roster logged time on the Bradley Center floor.
The varsity game was just part of the fun.
Lake Zurich brought its sophomore team as well as its sixth, seventh and eighth grade feeder teams. Each squad had the opportunity to play a 10-minute game.
“We get our whole program involved,” Pitcher said.
Following the varsity game, Lake Zurich sat back and watched the Bucks play host to James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets.
“It was a phenomenal opportunity to see the NBA players,” senior guard Jack Arends said.
This wasn’t the only basketball bucket trip the Bears enjoyed over the winter break. When they traveled to the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament, Pitcher took them to Peoria Civic Center’s Carver Arena, site of the IHSA state championships.
“Only two of the kids had been there before and they really soaked up the atmosphere,” Pitcher said. “We had a dinner reservation and we ended up being late. We couldn’t drag them out of there.”