Every time Lon Kruger invited teammates to his home in Silver Lake, Kan., 40 miles from Kansas State's campus, they didn't need to be asked twice.
“They would butcher a cow, and boy we ate,” said teammate Ernie Kusnyer. “It was only about an hour (from campus) if we took the back roads.”
Nearly four decades later, Kruger has kept the group together. In May, Kruger hosted teammates from Kansas State's 1972-73 Elite Eight team at his home in Las Vegas.
The reunion brought back memories from their playing days when Kruger and company would spend the holidays, spring break or weekends at his parents' house.
Bob Chipman, head coach at Washburn (Kan.) for 32 years, is closing in on 700 career wins. Chipman, from Flint, Mich., said those weekends at Kruger's home were greatly appreciated by players far from home.
“His Mom would put out a big spread,” Chipman said. “To have us all come out to Las Vegas shows you what a great teammate he still is almost 40 years later. He just has a knack for bringing people together.”
Everywhere Kruger has coached, he's made it a priority to reconnect the program with former players and coaches.
Danny Beard, who runs basketball camps in Italy, Canada and several states, was Kruger's roommate all four years at K-State. Beard said Kruger always had a knack for uniting people.
“He's a great coach but he's a wonderful person,” Beard said. “That's one reason he's been so successful. He has the temperament, the work ethic and knowledge of the game. Just as important is he has the ability to build team chemistry. His teams play hard and play together.”
Kusnyer and Kruger played basketball together one season overseas after leaving Kansas State. Kruger could have made a second attempt to make an NBA roster or possibly played professional baseball. He chose to coach.
“I was thinking, ‘You have a chance to play in the NBA and you want to coach?'” Kusnyer said. “Coaches didn't make much back then. But you could tell that's what he was meant to do.
“It doesn't surprise me he's been such a success. He builds great relationships with people. That's so much of it. He has a genuine concern for people. He's kept us together over the years.”