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Oklahoma Names Kruger Men's Basketball Coach
April 02, 2011
Lon Kruger has known Oklahoma's basketball program from the opponents' perspective. As both a player and coach at Kansas State, Kruger had many battles with the Sooners and he remembers them.
"Oklahoma was always a challenge," he said. "They had great tradition and they played with the pride that came with tradition. The players and coaches who have been associated with the Sooner program for so many years are some of the most successful in our game. In the college basketball world, Oklahoma's program enjoys a very good reputation."
Kruger, who spent the last seven seasons as the head coach at UNLV, became part of that tradition as he was named the school's 14th head coach. He brings with him a victory total that stands just 21 shy of 500 at 479 and post-season appearances in 16 of his last 19 campaigns on the college level.
"This is an exciting day," he said. "I have appreciated the Oklahoma program for many years and always felt it had all of the components necessary to compete at the highest national level.
"At this point, its greatest resource is leadership. President Boren and Joe Castiglione are recognized nationally for the growth and expansion of the university and athletics program. No matter where you look on this campus, you see talented people. It's the kind of environment that breeds success. I look forward to being part of it and to embracing the former players and coaches. We will be very aggressive in reaching out to them."

That said, leaving his UNLV program required serious thought.

"The people and especially our players at UNLV mean a great deal to me," he said. "This was a difficult decision for me because of our team and the people of Las Vegas. I was privileged to be associated with them."

Kruger, a native of Silver Lake, Kan., also acknowledged that Oklahoma's location was a factor in his decision.

"I have lived in a lot of places, but I was raised in middle America and that has always been home for me," he said. "We never knew if the opportunity would present itself to get back there, but it did in this case, and it came at a great university."

OU President David L. Boren said that Kruger was the best candidate for the position.

"Lon Kruger is the best choice for the University of Oklahoma," he said. "He has outstanding coaching ability and a commitment to the highest ethical standards. He will provide strong leadership to our program.

"In addition, he and his wife, Barbara, have a long record of service to the larger community. They will be tremendous additions to our campus and the state of Oklahoma."

Dr. John Bell, Chairman of the OU Board of Regents, added, "I can't think of anyone better to take our program where we think it can go. He cares about his student-athletes and he runs a program the right way. He combines a record of success with outstanding character."

Joe Castiglione, OU Vice President and Athletics Director, said Kruger represents a cross-section of skill that appealed to the university.

"Lon Kruger wins with class," said Castiglione, "and in the coaching realm, I don't know if the praise gets any higher. His background, ranging from regular trips to the NCAA Tournament to his time in the NBA, is among the most unique and complete in college basketball.

"He has demonstrated the ability to manage a program across the board, and the results speak for themselves. We have placed our program in the hands of a true professional and one of the most respected coaches in the country."

The attempt to reach out to Kruger took some time.

"Lon has great respect for his players, the leadership and the fans at UNLV," Castiglione said. "He had a good situation there and was happy. We were persistent in presenting a position that might hold some appeal for him."

As for playing style, the new coach said that establishing his team as the aggressor is an important goal.

"We want to dictate on both ends of the court," Kruger said. "We will attack on offense and look to score in transition and play with great toughness on defense. Naturally, we'll have to match our style to our personnel, but our basic principles will always be the same."

Kruger just completed his seventh season at UNLV where he compiled a record of 161-71. He took the Runnin' Rebels to the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five seasons after the program appeared in only two of the previous 15 tournaments, and also achieved UNLV's first national ranking since 1992-93. Over the past five seasons, Kruger's teams have posted a .743 winning percentage (127-44) and have averaged 25.4 wins. His 2006-07 squad won 30 games and advanced to the Sweet 16.

The success of the program also expanded off the court under Kruger, who, starting with the 2008-09 season, took an active role in the program's marketing and community outreach efforts. UNLV's 2009-10 attendance numbers at the Thomas & Mack Center were the largest since Jerry Tarkanian's final season (1991-92) and the Runnin' Rebels were No. 18 overall in attendance and No. 1 on the West Coast.

Kruger's overall college mark stands at 479-304 with 16 post-season appearances in 25 years. He began his head coaching career in the 1982-83 season at Texas-Pan American, where he compiled a four-year mark of 52-59, including a 20-8 record in the final season.

From there, he left for his alma mater of Kansas State where he was 81-46 in four seasons. His 1988 team was one of the best in the school's history with 24 victories and a trip to the Elite Eight.

Kruger then moved to Florida, where he led the Gators to a 104-80 mark with an appearance in the 1994 Final Four. After six years in Gainesville, he went to Illinois for a four-year run with the Illini. His teams were 81-48 with three NCAA Tournament appearances.

A four-year stint in the NBA -- three as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks (69-122) and one as a New York Knicks assistant -- followed before he returned to the college ranks at UNLV in 2004-05.

Kruger has led 13 teams to the NCAA Tournament, has a 14-13 record in those games, and is 8-5 all-time in first-round games, including wins in five of the last seven.

He took over a program at UNLV in 2004 that had gone through a period of significant instability with nine different head coaches in the previous 13 seasons. Over that span, the program made just two NCAA Tournament appearances, both first-round exits.

Kruger has proved himself a master of the turnaround. Five times he has taken over a college basketball program and five times -- within at least four years each time -- his programs have reigned victorious. He has led all five of the schools he has coached to 20-win seasons.

Kruger, 58, has guided his teams to the postseason on 17 different occasions, with 13 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and four in the NIT. He has compiled 12 20-plus-victory seasons.

As a player, the native of Silver Lake, Kan., helped lead the Wildcats to back-to-back Big Eight Conference titles in 1972 and 1973. After being touted as the Big Eight's Sophomore of the Year in 1972, he was honored as the league's best player in 1973 and 1974. He ranks 14th on the school's career scoring list with 1,063 career points and has the fourth-best career free throw percentage (.826) in school history. As a senior, he averaged 17.6 points per game and is tied for 16th on the school's career scoring average list with a 13.3 points-per-game average. His best single-game scoring total was 37 points vs. Colorado as a senior.

Kruger was selected to the all-time Big Eight Team (third team) and was named "Mr. Hustle" all-time in the Big Eight. An Academic All-American as a senior, he also earned All-Big Eight academic honors three times and was the first player to capture Kansas State's coveted Porky Morgan Most Inspirational Player Award three times. On Feb. 8, 2006, Kruger was honored during a halftime ceremony at a Kansas State men's basketball game by having his No. 12 jersey retired.

He was selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the ninth round of the 1974 NBA Draft. He also starred on the baseball diamond for Kansas State and was drafted by the Houston Astros in 1970 and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1974. During his Wildcat baseball career he posted his best season in 1971 when he went 4-3 as a pitcher (3-1 in Big Eight games) and had an earned run average of 3.33. He struck out 38 and walked 14 in 46 innings. An all-around athlete, Kruger even got some football notice after graduating from KSU when the Dallas Cowboys invited him to their 1974 rookie camp as a quarterback.

A prep standout at Silver Lake High School, Kruger lettered all four years in football, basketball and baseball. As a senior, he averaged 23 points per game in leading his team to the state basketball tournament, passed for 2,079 yards and 23 touchdowns in nine football games and led the baseball team to the state tournament as a pitcher/infielder. In 2006, Kruger was honored by being inducted into the Topeka and Shawnee County Sports Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class.

Born on Aug. 19, 1952, Kruger graduated from Kansas State in 1975 with a degree in business and earned his master's degree in physical education from Pittsburg State in 1977. He and his wife, Barbara, have two children: daughter Angie, who is a medical school graduate from the University of Florida and recently moved to Henderson to join Arthur Herpolsheimer, MD, practicing obstetrics and gynecology, and son Kevin, who graduated from Arizona State University and played at UNLV for his senior season, starting at point guard in 2006-07 for his father's squad. Kevin has played professionally since, playing for several organizations including the NBA Development League's Utah Flash and overseas as well. Angie was married to Mike Ciklin in the fall of 2008. Mike is an associate at SPB Partners in Las Vegas.

Kruger has been involved in a host of charities, especially the Coaches vs. Cancer program that is sponsored by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Over the past three years, Kruger was instrumental in starting the Coaches vs. Cancer's Las Vegas Classic, which has raised nearly $500,000 to benefit research, education and treatment programs for the Nevada Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

While at Florida, the Krugers were honored with consecutive Community Service Awards from the Gainesville Community Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse, and in 1995 he was named the Gainesville (Fla.) Volunteer of the Year. From 1991-93, the couple served as co-chairpersons of Alachua County's Red Ribbon Campaign, a week-long program aimed at increasing awareness and promoting a drug-free environment for the community.

During the Krugers' stay in Atlanta, Barbara was also involved in charity work, especially "My House," a transitional home for children 1-3 years old.

In Las Vegas, she is on the board of directors for Safe Nest, a domestic violence shelter, is a member of the Las Vegas Paradise Sertoma Club, which provides educational scholarships for the deaf, and she is also a sustaining member of the Junior League. Additionally, she is involved with PEO Sisterhood and the Krugers spend time helping the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth.

Coach Kruger was involved with many causes in Las Vegas and assisted, among others, the NCI and the ACS, the Clark County School District, Southern Nevada Health District with childhood obesity, the City of Las Vegas recreation and youth sports, the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

In 2008, Kruger released his first book, "The Xs & Os of Success: A Playbook for Leaders in Business & Life." The book, which highlights the parallels between coaching a sports team and leading others in non-sports settings, consists of 40, five-minute lessons conducive to leadership, life and teamwork. It uses sports as a way to tell the story and a way to make things tangible. All proceeds earned by Kruger from the book are being donated to the Clark County School District's School-Community Partnership.

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