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OU's Lon Kruger known for winning, not signing superstars

BY MIKE BALDWIN Modified: April 3, 2011 at 7:40 pm •  Published: April 3, 2011

The overriding question for Oklahoma men's basketball coach Lon Kruger: what's a realistic time frame to turn the program around?

The immediate questions are, who will be on Kruger's staff? Can Kruger sign a player or two this month?

Most of the top players in the 2011 class signed in November. But Kruger has excelled at finding diamonds in the rough, whether it's Division I and junior college transfers or under-the-radar high school prospects.

Ironically, that strength is viewed as Kruger's biggest weakness.

His resume is solid. After leaving Texas-Pan American, Kruger's teams at his last four college stops have played in the NCAA or NIT 17 of the last 21 years.

But most attribute his success to coaching, not signing elite talent.

The best player Kruger signed was 25 years ago, his first season at Kansas State.

Mitch Richmond, a junior college transfer, led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight, was the fifth pick in the 1988 NBA Draft and averaged 21.0 points during a 14-year pro career.

But that's the only NBA lottery pick Kruger has signed. He's signed only a handful of NBA first-round picks and McDonald's All-Americans.

His best recruiting classes, by far, were 1998 and 1999 at Illinois. He signed three McDonald's All-Americans, including Fred Williams and Brian Cook, late first-round NBA Draft picks.

But after he led Florida to its first Final Four in 1994, Gator fans felt it was best to part ways after Kruger failed to sign in-state megastar Vince Carter.

After his four years at Illinois, a Chicago columnist wrote: "Lon Kruger has always been an excellent teacher of basketball but unintentionally taught us what matters most in college basketball is not the X's and O's but the IRS: It's Recruiting Stupid.”

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