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Oklahoma basketball: Lon Kruger writing a success story at OU

COMMENTARY — Instead of cleaning house, OU's coach rearranged it. And the team chemistry he's built has the Sooners on the verge of an NCAA Tournament berth.
by Berry Tramel Published: February 23, 2013

NORMAN — Players decide who plays, says Lon Kruger.

Which explains why Steven Pledger, who had eight points in the first four minutes Saturday against Baylor, and Romero Osby, who continued his excellent production, have kept their starting jobs all season, making them in the minority among OU seniors.

And why Sam Grooms was back in the lineup, en route to a career-high 23 points.

But after the Sooners routed the Bears 90-76, maybe it's time for a salute. Kruger's restoration of OU basketball is an uncommon success story. Kruger didn't clean the house. He did something more difficult: he rearranged it.

Which made Baylor coach Scott Drew sound almost wistful in praising the Sooners.

After Drew apologized to Baylor Nation — I guess everybody has a nation these days — for his poor coaching and his team's lack of focus, Drew said he's most impressed with OU's chemistry.

A team with five returning starters has integrated newcomers into the lineup. Veterans have sacrificed. Playing time has diminished.

Yet the Sooners have shown all the dissension of the Family von Trapp. And they're being rewarded in the best of ways — a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The victory over Baylor wasn't any kind of validation, even the first-half bombardment that gave OU a 47-21 lead at halftime. But it was the latest sign that Kruger's makeover has taken root not just in the talented players he's brought to Norman, but the beleaguered troops he inherited.

“For them to put the team first, chemistry wise, it's really impressive,” Drew said.

You know the numbers. Andrew Fitzgerald, 74 career starts before this season, one career start since. Grooms, 31 career starts before this season, just two this season. Cameron Clark, 60 career starts before this season, zero this season.

“I thought it was going to work from the beginning,” said Pledger, who had 17 first-half points Saturday. Pledger has started all 26 games this season to go with the 59 starts previously, but his minutes have lessened as OU's depth increased.

Kruger credits the quality of his players' character. Usually when a coach talks like that, there's no reason to trust him. Sometimes coaches just jabber.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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