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Lon Kruger brought UNLV program back to prominence

BY MIKE BALDWIN, Staff Writer, Modified: July 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm •  Published: July 15, 2011

Fans took notice.

Attendance soared by nearly 42 percent.

Two years ago UNLV celebrated its first sellout of 18,500-seat Thomas & Mack Center since 1993 during the Tarkanian era.

UNLV averaged 14,228 fans two years ago to rank in the top 20 nationally in attendance.

“Part of that was he made a better product. They were more competitive,” Leavitt said. “But he also was heavily involved in marketing the program. I mean, the guy was everywhere. He got students involved. He built interest. “

Mountain West rival Steve Fisher, who has revived San Diego State, paid Kruger the ultimate compliment.

“He is a superb basketball coach who brought respectability back to the UNLV program,” Fisher said. “He did a great job. My guess is all he did there won't be fully appreciated until he's gone. Lon is the man I would want my son to play for. He is the person you want to live next door to.”

Kruger was 161-71 during seven seasons at UNLV. The Rebels played in the NCAA Tournament four of his final five seasons. They were ranked nationally three of his final five seasons.

But talk to anyone close to UNLV's program and inevitably they'll say wins and losses and postseason appearances don't tell the entire story because of how far the program fell.

Massimino lasted only two seasons.

His replacement, former Tarkanian assistant Tim Grgurich, lasted seven games before he resigned.

Bayno briefly revived the program with NBA-caliber players like Shawn Marion. The price tag was the program was placed on probation for recruiting violations when UNLV tried to land Lamar Odom, who signed with Rhode Island.

Charlie Spoonhour, a veteran coach with a squeaky clean image, muddled through the probation years but resigned in the middle of the third season.

The following year Kruger arrived.

“There was a rebirth of Runnin' Rebel basketball,” Allen said. “We gained new fans and re-engaged with longtime fans that had lost interest. The future of UNLV basketball is bright because of the foundation built under coach Kruger and his staff.

“He always leaves programs in better shape than he found them. That's the sign of a tremendous leader. Look at where Florida was. Illinois was set up for tremendous success when Lon left for the NBA. And now UNLV is at a whole different level than when Lon took over in 2004.”


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