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Lon Kruger begins his Extreme Makeover at OU

By Mike Baldwin, Staff Writer, Published: July 16, 2011

Texas A&M and Baylor have developed into perennial NCAA Tournament contenders. Oklahoma State will have its most talented roster in coach Travis Ford's four seasons. Billy Gillispie (Texas Tech) and Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State) could rebuild quickly.

“There's no reason not to think he can't do it again,” said UNLV play-by-play voice Jon Sadler. “He probably has better facilities and resources at Oklahoma than he's had almost everywhere else with the possible exception of Florida.

“The biggest difference is the level of competition in the Big 12. It may take him a little longer to get the program up the ladder because there are so many good teams. But I think he's perfect for that situation given what's happened the past couple of years.”

Even his one “failure,” a losing record in 2½ seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, will benefit Kruger, according to Illinois State assistant Rob Judson, who was on Kruger's Illinois staff.

“There are only a handful of college coaches that have coached in the NBA,” Judson said. “The time he spent in Atlanta enlarged his vision of the game. He's always been a great coach, but that experience made him an even better coach.

“Look at his track record. Oklahoma is getting a coach that's a program builder.”

Kruger's formula is simple. Recruit high-character players who play hard and coach them up.

Most practices start with Kruger spending a couple of minutes with every player. Some he encourages. With others he throws down a challenge.

Orlando Magic media relations director Joel Glass was Florida's sports information director when Kruger inherited a similar situation two decades ago at a football school.

“There's not a single doubt, at all, he'll do the same thing (at OU),” Glass said. “He will create the right atmosphere, make the program successful and do it the right way.”

Former OU star Gar Heard, an 18-year NBA assistant who was on Kruger's staff in Atlanta, called Kruger the day he was hired in Norman.

“I told him he's the perfect fit for that situation,” Heard said. “He's a Big Eight guy from Kansas. Everything fell into place. I'm really glad he got the job and will do whatever I can to help him. We need to get that program turned around. And I think he's the guy to do it.”

Kruger has compiled a 479-304 record with 13 NCAA Tournament appearances his last 20 years as a college coach.

Kruger could join an exclusive list of Division I coaches with 500 wins as early as his debut season at OU.

“When you realize he will accomplish that while revitalizing six different programs, you have to think it might be one of the most unique and most difficult trips to 500 wins in college basketball history,” Allen said. “He's the best at what he does — revitalizing programs that need to win the right way.”

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