While his team was playing in-state rival Miami, Florida coach Lon Kruger was tapped on the shoulder by a 10-year-old boy who attended one of his father-son coaching camps.
Instead of motioning for an usher to escort the boy away, Kruger embraced the situation.
“Hi Johnny,” Kruger responded, leaning back in his chair. “Got any suggestions?”
The boy's face lit into a beaming smile.
“That's the type of story Lon would never tell, but it was so good we used it to open our book (on the history of Florida basketball),” said Bill Koss. “At his camps, Lon memorizes all the kids' names. It's a perfect example of what Lon Kruger is about.”
People at all of Kruger's coaching stops tell similar stories:
One of the nicest people you will ever meet.
Runs a program the right way.
He will get everyone involved: students, former coaches and players.
“As much as any head coach I've ever known he embraces others,” said Koss, who has been involved with Florida hoops for 40 years. “It's not just basketball. He and (his wife) Barbara were involved in so many community projects.”
Rod Cardinal, a trainer at Illinois for 30 years, said Kruger's goal is to help others on and off the court. A good example is Kruger and his staff would sit at the front of the bus after road games, exchanging ideas.
“That impressed me because instead of running a player down, he wanted to draw more out of players,” Cardinal said. “He has a different perspective than your typical coach. His goal is to build players into becoming more productive players.”
Jerry Hester, who played for Kruger at Illinois, said Kruger even has a unique method for correcting mistakes.
“What's funny is coach Kruger doesn't really cuss, but he has a stare,” Hester said. “You'd rather he cuss you out. If you got that stare you knew you were in trouble.”
The key is communication. Kruger encourages players to routinely visit him in his office.
“He's a wonderful communicator,” said Danny Beard, Kruger's teammate at Kansas State. “Players really enjoy playing for him. But his way is the way it's going to be done. He expects them to go to class. He expects them to be respectful, treat people the way they want to be treated.
“It's not an option. It's a requirement. He will hold players accountable. He has a system. You either buy into the system or not. If you don't buy into his system it's probably not the best place for you.”
Those type of ideals appeal to many parents.
Cory Bradford played for Kruger at Illinois. The deciding factor was his mother informed Kruger every coach promised a good education and a chance to play. What else could he offer?
“He told my Mom, ‘Cory will become a good person on and off the court,' ” Bradford said. “That really stood out. He's a player's coach. He doesn't just teach you basketball, he teaches you lessons you'll use your entire life.”