Oklahoma men's basketball: Lon Kruger's winning formula is working at Oklahoma

For the first time since Blake Griffin left Norman, the ever-steady Kruger has made Sooner basketball relevant again.
by Stephanie Kuzydym Published: February 1, 2013

photo - OU: Oklahoma Head Coach Lon Kruger holds up the game ball after his 500th career win during a men's college basketball game between the University of Oklahoma and Northwestern Louisiana State University at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Friday, Nov. 30, 2012.  Photo by Garett Fisbeck, The Oklahoman
OU: Oklahoma Head Coach Lon Kruger holds up the game ball after his 500th career win during a men's college basketball game between the University of Oklahoma and Northwestern Louisiana State University at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. Photo by Garett Fisbeck, The Oklahoman

Watch him during a game after a possession with a mistake. Sometimes Kruger furrows his brow and his forehead creases. Sometimes he slightly sticks out his lower jaw. Rarely, he'll shout. That's as far as it goes.

During Oklahoma's practice, Kruger, usually dressed in a pair of red sweatpants, will quicken his stride when he means business but as soon as he reaches his group of players, he's back to clapping his hands and saying something stern with a sense of encouragement and always a load of knowledge.

“The guys around him feel comfortable,” said Jeff Guin, a former basketball manager for Kruger at Florida and who later joined Kruger's Illinois staff. “Some coaches when they coach, you can tell the kids are tense and they're worried about making mistakes. He just gets them to go out and play. At the same time, it's not that the kids are looking over the shoulder on what to do next. Coach has already taught them what to do.”

Kruger's ability to rebuild comes from more than just the team accepting him. He also accepts the team. D.J. Allen, a communications director at UNLV, said Kruger looked at what players he has, what strengths they provided and determined the positions he could put them in to be successful.

Allen was so amazed at Kruger's ability to rebuild, he wrote a book with him about it. Kruger took Florida from being ecstatic about making it to the NIT all the way to the program's first Final Four. He set Illinois on a steady course for success. He turned UNLV from being an NIT team to an NCAA Sweet Sixteen team.

Koss said: “A lot of people tend to focus on weaknesses and say, ‘Well you know, this person has this shortcoming and that shortcoming.' I don't think Lon sees shortcomings.”

* * *

Kruger smiled as he watched his team run a play during a recent practice. That's how Kruger looks most of practice.

At the end of the practice, he chatted with fans who had made their way to watch the Sooners practice.

In a day of reduced access and availability, Kruger and his team are available for all to watch. He gathers with his team at the end of practice as they say a prayer, watches them shake hands with fans and then follows.

Kruger thanks people for coming, diverting attention from himself.

“Need anything?” he says.

“He's the same guy, I'm telling you,” Koss said of the coach. “Lon Kruger hasn't changed one iota. He's the same grounded, down-to-earth, interested in others, only sees the positive things guy. I'm older than Lon and I'd still like to grow up and be like Lon.”

by Stephanie Kuzydym
Reporter
Stephanie Kuzydym learned at a young age that life is a game of inches. That's just one reason why she loves football. Kuzydym joined The Oklahoman in July 2012. Before arriving in the state, Kuzydym was an intern for the sports departments at...
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