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Lon Kruger made Florida basketball fun

BY MIKE BALDWIN, Staff Writer, mbaldwin@opubco.com Published: July 12, 2011
/articleid/3585046/1/pictures/1463666">Photo - Florida coach Lon Kruger gets a piece of the net after his Florida Gators defeated Boston College in the NCAA East Regional Finals in Miami, Sunday, March 27, 1994 by a score of 74-66. (AP Photo/Hans Deryk)
Florida coach Lon Kruger gets a piece of the net after his Florida Gators defeated Boston College in the NCAA East Regional Finals in Miami, Sunday, March 27, 1994 by a score of 74-66. (AP Photo/Hans Deryk)

Koss said that's where Kruger's impact went beyond the Final Four season. Kruger was involved in the community. He spoke to students. He embraced Gator nation's love for football.

"More than any coach I've ever been around Lon makes everyone feel part of the program," Koss said. "He made Florida basketball fun."

As attendance improved, Kruger spent the next four years molding unheralded recruits and producing a team in 1993-94 that would set a then school record 29 wins.

Brown was a starting guard on that team and said players were prepared for every possible situation.

"Coach Kruger was always designing plays, coming up with new wrinkles to give us an advantage," Brown said. "He was always tweaking things. He'd come up with unique things during a game and had the ability to communicate that with his players.

"But it's also was the way he treats people. That's why we had such great chemistry. He was a door-is-always-open coach right from the start. He stressed doing things the right way. He wasn't a yeller. He wouldn't belittle you. But he got his point across."

Brown learned that lesson when he tried to dribble between his legs, the ball caroming off his leg out of bounds.

"He stopped practice and said, 'Keep it basic. That's not what we do,'" Brown said. "I got the message. He rewarded guys who did things the right way. And he wasn't just about today. He was about making a difference after we were done playing."

Only two of Kruger's six Florida teams played in the NCAA Tournament but he still owns the second best winning percentage in school history behind Billy Donovan.

Kruger's impact at Florida is overshadowed by Donovan's success the past 15 years.

Donovan has won 360 games, made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances and won back-to-back national championships along with three Final Four trips.

But if it wasn't for Kruger who knows where Florida basketball would be today?

"(Rick) Pitino told Billy, 'Absolutely do not take that job. It's a football school,'" Koss said. "Billy has told me several times he would not have taken the job if Lon hadn't accomplished what he accomplished."


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