2022 Guard Zion Cruz has Elevated his Game in the Pandemic

Jason Jordan

Zion Cruz wasn’t going to waste time wallowing in his disappointment.  

When the Nike EYBL officially announced the cancellation of its summer basketball league, Cruz took “about a week” to have all of the cliché emotions associated with missing the game he loves.

“I was mad about it,” Cruz said. “I was really looking forward to playing against the best players all summer, so when I heard it wasn’t happening it was hard to believe. I felt like this was gonna be a big summer for me.”

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Shortly thereafter, Cruz had an epiphany: He could still have the “big summer” he wanted only now he’d had to achieve it through hard work and individual drills.

“I wasn’t gonna sit around and waste time,” Cruz said. “I wanted to get to work.”

Sitting atop Cruz’s “areas for improvement” list was to make his deep jump shot more efficient and to sharpen his reads as a playmaker.

“I want to become more of a point guard,” Cruz said. “I play both guard positions, but I want to play the point. Those were the two things I was focused on coming out of the quarantine better at. I gave myself until I had to go back to school.”

Cruz’s grind consisted of shooting drills where he had to make 500 “deep” threes a day plus multiple pick-and-roll and dribble-drive drills.

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“I’ve been studying a lot of the NBA game to help with my reads too,” Cruz said. “My jump shot is a lot better. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve started open runs and I can see the difference so much now. It makes me even more hungry for the season.”

Last season at Hudson (N.J.) Catholic, Cruz averaged 20.5 points a game.

In April he announced his transfer to national hoops power Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) where he’ll join fellow elite guards M.J. Rice and Dior Johnson, a Syracuse commit, to form, arguably, the top guard trio in the country next season.

“We know each other, and we have good chemistry,” Cruz said of Rice and Johnson. “Me and Dior play the point, and we can play together. It will just make our team more dangerous and make us both better throughout the season.”

College coaches are already applying the full-court recruiting press for Cruz; UCLA, Georgia, Georgetown, Auburn, Louisville, Kansas, Kentucky, St. John’s, Connecticut and Oklahoma State, among many others, are all pursuing the 6-foot-5 guard.

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“I was excited back in June when coaches could reach out to guys in our class for the first time,” Cruz said. “Now, I see that it’s a lot keeping up with all of the coaches calling and texting, but I’m just happy to be in this position. I’m just focused on Oak Hill now.”

Cruz reports to the Warriors on August 24.

He said he’s not concerned with different state associations pushing back the start of their basketball seasons to December and January due to the COVID-19 pandemic; he's more focused on the opportunity Oak Hill provides.

“I’ll be there with some of the best guards in the country working hard,” Cruz said. “That can only make me elevate my game. That’s what I’m excited about. My goal was to get better by the time I got to school, and I’m ahead of schedule. I can only imagine where my game will be by the end of the year.”