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Lon Kruger's future was evident when he played

New Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger was ‘born to be a coach,' his former college roommate said. Never was that more evident than at halftime of a 1972 game against Utah, when Kruger, then a Kansas State junior point guard, took control in the locker room and then led the team to victory.
By Mike Baldwin, Staff Writer, Modified: July 10, 2011 at 6:47 pm •  Published: July 10, 2011

Kansas State made a road trip to Salt Lake City in 1972. In those days, there was no ESPN to show highlights from nearly every conference. The Wildcats had no idea Utah was led by two future NBA players — Mike Sojourner and “Ticky” Burden.

After seeing the Utes throttle his team the first half, veteran K-State coach Jack Hartman was so frustrated, he stormed out of the locker room. He told players to figure it out for themselves.

Depending on which story you want to believe, junior point guard Lon Kruger either jumped up and began drawing X's and O's on the chalkboard or simply informed teammates adjustments needed to fix first-half problems.

“He was born to be a coach,” said Danny Beard, Kruger's roommate all four years at K-State. “He's doing exactly what God created him to do.”

Hired as Oklahoma's men's basketball coach in April, Kruger has been a head coach for nearly three decades.

Teammates describe him as the nicest guy you'll ever meet. But once he stepped on the court he was transformed almost like a superhero in a movie.

“I swear one day in practice you could literally see smoke coming out of his nose,” said teammate Bob Chipman. “It was the scariest thing I've ever seen.

“He is so intense. I've never seen anyone compete like he did every possession, every day. He's the most competitive person I've been around. And I've seen a lot of players.”

Chipman, 59, has been the head coach at Washburn (Kan.) for 32 years. He's closing in on 700 career wins.

After watching Kruger, Chipman learned not to judge players by appearances. A hotshot junior college recruit from Flint, Mich., Chipman mulled over several offers. LSU wanted him to follow Pete Maravich.

Kruger? He was a 5-foot-11 guard from Silver Lake, a rural community in Kansas.

“I wasn't that good but thought I was at the time,” Chipman said. “In preseason I couldn't take him serious. What I didn't know is he was running five miles and doing 500 pushups. When practiced started I was like, ‘Wow.' His work ethic was incredible. I've never seen anything like it.”

Kruger excelled in everything. Class valedictorian. Football star. Scratch golfer. Plus-200 bowler. Adept card player. He was drafted by the Houston Astros out of high school and by the St. Louis Cardinals out of college.

“He was one of those guys who was so good at everything it kind of made you mad,” said teammate Ernie Kusnyer. “That's why we called him ‘Slick.'”

Beard said the nickname originated because of his hair style.

“It you look at his pictures up to his senior year he had a little flattop and a little bitty piece of hair in the front he used to butch wax to make it stand up,” Beard said. “His hair was cut bald on the side but he had that little part standing up in the front.”

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