Team chemistry is a trademark for Lon Kruger teams. Giving him a head start produced the most memorable season of his distinguished career.
Months before Florida made an unexpected run to the 1994 Final Four, the Gators played summer exhibition games for two weeks in Australia.
“That's when it all started,” said Craig Brown, a senior guard on the '94 team. “We really rolled into preseason with some momentum.”
Coming off a 16-12 season that ended with a first-round NIT loss, national analysts didn't forecast big things for the Gators.
Bolstered by momentum gained during the summer, Florida started the season 14-2.
The Gators finally cracked the national polls in late January. They tied for the SEC East regular-season title and finished as the runner-up in the SEC Tournament.
“We didn't have any superstars or McDonald's All-Americans,” Brown said. “We were just a bunch of guys committed to playing tough, hard defense. We believed in the coaching staff. After we got back (from Australia), we knew we had a chance to have a special season.”
Orlando Magic media relations director Joel Glass was the basketball sports information director when Kruger was at Florida.
“(Kruger) creates a family atmosphere where everyone truly cares about one another on and off the court,” Glass said. “His teams always have great chemistry. They don't care necessarily how many points they score. They care about winning. ... That year it started during the trip to Australia.”
Bill Koss, who has been involved in Florida basketball for nearly 40 years, helped write a book on the history of the program.
When Kruger told him on the Australia trip he really liked the makeup of the team, Koss took it seriously.
“I learned if Lon tells you something, you can take it to the bank,” Koss said. “He knows what he's talking about. Craig Brown and Andrew DeClercq were really the glue to that team. You could tell on that trip that team was already starting to bond.”