Lon Kruger led Illinois to Cinderella run

by Michael Baldwin Published: July 13, 2011

Kruger led Illinois to the second round of the NCAA Tournament three of his four seasons. Even his one "down season" was memorable.

Playing several freshmen, Kruger realized a young team could digest only so much. Before the Big Ten Tournament, he installed a new offense, allowing players to play a more wide open style.

"Coach Kruger knows how to get the best out of you," Bradford said. "I wasn't a shooter until I got to Illinois. I had a decent jump shot. But Coach Kruger was like, 'This is the Big Ten. You can't dunk all the time.'"

The Cinderella run ended against No. 2 Michigan State, which also advanced to the Final Four.

"We just ran out of gas," said Illinois State assistant Rob Judson, an assistant on Kruger's staff at Illinois. "But that was a great run with a team that was very young and had been down all season."

The unexpected run posed challenges. No one, not even Kruger, packed enough clothes for four days.

"We had to scramble to make restaurant reservations," Cardinal said. "The bus driver had to reschedule plans he'd made with his family. What a memorable run. We're still the first and only 11th seed to make the championship game."

by Michael Baldwin
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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