Friday, January 7, 2011
POTW: Plainfield's Jack Krieger
By Scott Powers
Nearly everyone in the gym knew who Rich South's Macari Brooks was when he stepped onto the court against Plainfield North at the Joliet West Thanksgiving tournament in November.
Jack Krieger no longer plays in the shadow of players from higher profile schools.
A DePaul recruit, a high flyer, a scoring machine, Brooks had built his reputation. There were people in attendance specifically to see him play.
Comparably, Jack Krieger's family was there for him. To the other fans, Krieger was just another Plainfield North player. He blended in with the rest of his lanky teammates.
Even if someone had seen Krieger play before, he would have been labeled as a shooter. As a junior, Krieger made his living from behind the 3-point line. He was never a threat to drive.
After 32 minutes of basketball, Krieger had a new reputation. When people walked out of the building that evening, they weren't talking about Brooks and Rich South. They were raving about Krieger and his 37 points and 11 rebounds in Plainfield North's upset win.
Nearly two months later, the buzz over Krieger hasn't been muted. From gym to gym around the Chicago area, Krieger, the ESPNChicago.com/Muscle Milk Prep Athlete of the Week, has fans learning his name and his new and improved all-around game.
"I came out with something to prove," the 6-foot-3 guard said of his season debut. "Last year, I knew I was a shooter, and all the teams knew that I could shoot. I knew I had to mix my game up, so that was pretty much a showcase of what I can do.
"It was pretty sweet [to face Brooks.] He's a great player. He can jump out of the gym. He can take over a game whenever he wants. I wanted to prove to everyone really. You don't get a lot of respect out in Plainfield."
Krieger's respect has arrived following a difficult journey. After last season, Plainfield North coach Nick DiForti sat down with Krieger and laid out the truth.
"It was, ‘Jack, people know you can shoot,'" DiForti said. "‘They're going to shut you down eventually, and you have to do something to create your shot.' He took that to heart and worked his tail off in the offseason."
Krieger didn't take offense to his coach's words. Krieger's dream was to play college basketball, and he understood to reach it he had to become a more versatile player. His game needed to expand.
As soon as last season ended, Krieger went to work. He spent hours alone in the gym perfecting his ballhandling, getting comfortable driving to the net and learning ways to finish from everywhere other than the 3-point range. He then took those skills on the road with his high school and clubs teams over the summer.
During that time, Krieger had his ups and his downs. He had shots thrown back in his face. He turned the ball over. None of it deterred him.
"There's always test runs, I guess you would say," Krieger said. "There were plenty of times I failed, but never enough to discourage me in saying, ‘I quit. I'm just going to be a shooter.' I use that as motivation to keep going.
"It was a long road. I gave up my whole summer. I gave up family vacations and a lot of family time to travel around the state and then out of state and going to Las Vegas. I put in a lot of work, but it was worth it."
The reward has been his season. Krieger's big night against Brooks would only be the start. He went over 30 points in three of his first four games for the Tigers. He dropped 39 points on Plainfield South in the Joliet West tournament championship.
He's averaged 24.9 points per game for the season while slowly picking up college interest.
Krieger's status was bumped higher over the holidays at the Pontiac Tournament, one of the state's premier Christmas tournaments. He had 24 points and nine rebounds in a win over Bloomington. He had 25 points and 12 rebounds in a victory over Peoria Manual the following day.
Finally in his most impressive game, Krieger was lights out against Warren and its Division I-caliber athletes. Krieger hit shots fading away. He drained them while leaning forward. He sank them while falling off to the side. Whatever he threw up seemed to drop in the net, and the fans were enjoying every second of it. He would finish with 30 points in a narrow loss to the Blue Devils.
"I was surprised on some of them," Krieger said of his shots. "Sometimes I was cockeyed or turned around or falling around the basket, but I'll take what I can get."
It was nothing new to DiForti, but he was pleased to see Krieger perform so well on such a big stage.
"He's been playing to that caliber, but I think he really showed people what type of player he is against Bloomington, Manual and Warren. It was like, ‘All right, can you do it again against the big, big dogs as opposed to the big dogs in the area? Can you do it against the best in the state?' I think he proved that."
Krieger isn't content yet.
"Obviously, the season's not done, so I'm not done gaining respect," he said. "That's my No. 1 goal, to gain respect for the school, Plainfield North basketball and myself really. I feel like I can compete with anyone.
Knowing is part of being the perfect player as coach says. Everyone has their flaws. If you come out ready to play every single game and give it your all, the result is going to be great."