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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lon Kruger, rebuilding Sooners host Jayhawks

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger in action against Cincinnati on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011, in Cincinnati.

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger in action against Cincinnati on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011, in Cincinnati.

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— Well-traveled Lon Kruger, who has been all over the map since leaving Kansas State in 1990, has returned to the heartland to coach college basketball.

The 59-year-old Silver Lake native, who both played and coached at his alma mater, KSU, is in his first year as University of Oklahoma’s head coach after stops at the University of Florida, University of Illinois, NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks and UNLV.

“It is back to the roots. It feels very much like coming back home,” said Kruger, who has Oklahoma off to an impressive 10-3 start — 0-1 in the Big 12 — entering today’s 1 p.m. game against Kansas at OU’s Noble Center.

He spent the previous seven seasons in Las Vegas where he compiled a 161-71 record, which included four NCAA appearances and two NITs.

“People have been great and (I have) a lot of family still in the Silver Lake area. So (I’m) anxious to have an opportunity to see them more frequently,” Kruger said. “Even though the conference has changed (since his Big Eight days) and appears to be continuing to change, it feels great. And I’m excited about it.”

So far, the locals have taken a cautious attitude as Kruger embarks on his latest rebuilding task. OU has averaged 7,998 fans in seven games (all victories) in 12,000-seat Noble Center. OU drew a season-high 9,077 fans for its most impressive victory, a 78-63 rout of Arkansas.

OU in nonconference play also beat Houston, Washington State, Santa Clara, Sacramento State, Oral Roberts, Idaho State, Coppin State, South Carolina State and Northwestern State. The Sooners fell to Cincinnati (56-55) and St. Louis (83-63) in their only nonconference setbacks.

Missouri brought the Sooners back to earth, rolling, 87-49, on Tuesday in Columbia, Mo.

“The guys have been very receptive. They’ve done an excellent job of focusing on what our objectives are,” Kruger said. “They’ve put extra time in. They’ve worked hard, have been great about moving the ball and being unselfish and making progress every day.”

Improvement is needed ... “across the board,” Kruger said. “We need to be more physical, aggressive to loose balls, execute things better offensively, minimize slippage and wasted possessions on both ends.”

The Sooners are led by Steven Pledger, a 6-4 junior guard from Chesapeake, Va., who averages a team-leading 18.2 points with 4.0 rebounds per game. He had just 11 points versus MU.

“Steve has focused well, put a lot of time into it,” Kruger said. “He has been efficient, made good basketball plays. He has a good feel for the game. He’s shot the ball (53.2 percent; 34-70 threes for 48.6 percent), moved the ball, rebounded better and done well on the defensive end.”

Andrew Fitzgerald, a 6-8 junior, averages 12.7 points and 5.4 rebounds; junior forward Romero Osby 10.5 points and 8.3 boards; soph guard Cameron Clark 8.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg and junior guard Sam Grooms 7.0 ppg and 5.5 assists per outing.

“Lon has got a good team,” KU coach Bill Self said of Kruger, who preceded Self as coach at Illinois. “Missouri handed them a pretty big setback, but we know they are capable, and we have to go down there and play well. We don’t play many games away from home. We have to get our minds right and our bodies right to go down there and take care of business.”

It’s the start of a two-game road swing. KU plays Wednesday at Texas Tech in an 8 p.m. tip.

“I’d be much happier winning Saturday (than Wednesday over Kansas State in Allen) because that’d mean winning away from home,” Self said. “That’s what you have to do to win in the league.”

The Jayhawks realize the Sooners will be ultra focused playing a ranked team (KU is No. 14) while trying to erase the taste of a 38-point loss at MU.

“We know Oklahoma is a good team. They will be very ready to come back. Playing at home, they should be very ready,” KU’s Travis Releford said.

Noted KU center Jeff Withey: “We see OU as another great team, and we have to play them as hard as we did K-State. It’s a tough game, but we need to go win it. We started it (league) off right, and we are going to build off it (win over KSU). It’s a long season, and we know a lot can happen. We know we’ve got to come every night, and we’ll be ready.”

MU revisited

OU, which has outrebounded opponents an average of 40.7 boards per game to 32.2, had an off night at Missouri. The Tigers won the board battle, 38-23. OU had just seven offensive rebounds.

“We got dominated pretty much in every area,” Kruger told the Oklahoman. “Rebounding for sure.

“We didn’t offer much resistance. Missouri is a really good ballclub. Still, I would have liked to have thought we could stand in there and take a few swings. We didn’t. Again, credit Missouri, but we have a lot of work to do.”

Of the game, point guard Grooms said, “We suffered a loss. It was a big number. But I don’t think we’ll lose any confidence. Even the best teams lose. It takes a game like this that hits you in the mouth to really make you think what we need to do to get better.”

This, that

KU, which has won seven consecutive games over OU, leads the all-time series, 136-64. KU is 48-40 in Norman and 16-15 in Noble Center. The Jayhawks have won three in a row at Noble and are 3-1 in the building under Self. ... Since the inception of the Big 12, KU is 15-4 against Oklahoma — 13-2 in regular season and 2-2 in the Big 12 championship. ... Self is 8-3 all-time against OU, including 8-1 while at KU. Kruger is 5-10 all-time against Kansas, including a 4-7 mark while coach at K-State. Two of those losses were in overtime and another by one point. OU assistant coach Steve Henson played in all 11 of those games. ... KU’s Thomas Robinson and Naadir Tharpe and OU’s Andrew Fitzgerald all played at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. ... OU freshman James Fraschilla is the son of ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla. ... OU sophomore Jarrod Kruger is nephew of Lon Kruger. Jarrod played at Topeka West High School. ... The last time Oklahoma beat a top-15 team was Feb. 6, 2009 (over No. 9 Texas 80-71). ... OU’s Romero Osby, who was recruited by KU, has grabbed at least six rebounds in 10 of 13 games. In his 35 games at Mississippi State as a sophomore in 2009-10, Osby had at least six boards three times.

Open practice

OU coach Kruger is one of the rare coaches to actually open practice to the public.

“We just want people to know that we want them there. They’re welcome any time, and we’ve had a lot of people at practice already to share ownership in the program,” Kruger said. “We had over 100 former players and coaches come back for an alumni event in August. We just want people to enjoy the process, jump on board and have a good time.”

What a game

KU senior Tyshawn Taylor’s career-high scoring outing came at Oklahoma. As a freshman, Taylor hit for 26 points in KU’s 87-78 win on Feb. 23, 2009.

KU well represented

OU’s players are hoping there are more Sooner fans than Jayhawk fans in the stands today. A year ago, KU had at least half the arena in an 82-70 victory.

“You hear about Kansas’ great tradition, they travel well and have diehard fans like football here. But that was crazy. I walked out thinking, ‘Good grief, are we in Oklahoma?’’’ OU’s Tyler Neal told the Oklahoman.

“That was hard for us, knowing they had more fans than us,” junior forward Andrew Fitzgerald told the Oklahoman. “Hopefully this year there will be a lot more crimson than blue. It’s going to be a very good game, a game I’m really looking forward to.”

The game is expected to be a sellout.

Comments

Jeremy Paul 2 years, 7 months ago

I've always liked Lon Kruger. I think he'll get OU back up and running, which is good for our conference.

Regarding open practice: I attended the University of Misery in the early 90's, and was in the old Hearnes center one day. It's a gigantic, cavernous building in which half of it is classrooms, campus police, offices, etc and the other half is the basketball arena. I think I was there to pay a parking ticket or something. Anyway, I made my way over to the arena part of the building and the basketball team just happened to be practicing. I was way up in the nosebleeds and decided to sit down to watch. I was in my seat for literally 5 seconds before Norm Stewart looked up and saw me. He started yelling "HEY! GET OUT OF HERE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GET OUT OF HERE! YOU CAN'T BE IN HERE!" So I got up and as I was walking out I yelled back "ROCK CHALK!" So now I can always tell my children that I talked to Norm Stewart once.

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okiedave 2 years, 7 months ago

Hearing the words "Rock Chalk" echo in Hearnes during practice in an empty building most certainly caused Norm anxiety for the rest of the practice and most likely raised his blood pressure the remainder of the day. Good job.

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Steve Brown 2 years, 7 months ago

Similar story: I was visiting AFH one afternoon in '88 and Larry Brown was holding practice, we had just won 4 March Madness games including upset of Mitch Ritchmond and KState so we were headed to final four in KC. Like you, I sat 2/3 way up in the corner to watch practice. Larry saw me, sent someone up in the stands and said, "coach said don't sit so far up, come down closer to get a better view" I smiled said no thanks I don't want to be a bother..... I came home and told my pals, Coach is so confident we will win both games.

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UmbertoConforti 2 years, 7 months ago

Even though I have lived in Kansas all my life I never liked Lon Kruger so I hope we beat his team by at least 30 points. Of course, I know we wont. He's a good coach in the Jack Hartman tradition. Why any KU fan would pull for him and his team is beyond me. To put it mildly, his teams play rough. Watch out Hawks.

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Gregor Southard 2 years, 7 months ago

because we're not whiney little bit*hes like KSU fans. I attended his bball camp as a kid. He knew I was a KU guy but was still nice to me!

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Beate Williams 2 years, 7 months ago

I guess Kruger averaged 33 victories a season (161-71) while in Las Vegas. I'm surprised he never won the championship with that number of victories.

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Beate Williams 2 years, 7 months ago

It's early and I got a bit carried away, that's 23 and not 33; which in fact is respectable but not championship wins.

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REHawk 2 years, 7 months ago

Kruger is savvy, and yeah, his teams tend to bang. That type of play is good for our progress, to the extent that it doesn't disrupt the Jayhawk lineup with injuries. This game will be a test of Withey's toughness. I am picking him as Hawk to Rock.

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Jack Wilson 2 years, 7 months ago

Looking back, I wonder if Kruger wishes he would have just been a career coach at K-State. I know there are new mountains to climb and all of that. But what kind of career did he really have? Bounced around. My guess is he would have been a nationally appreciated coach, viewed much like Norm Stewart; K-State would have been a regular in the top 15; a final four trip or two; the basketball rivalry between KU and K-State would be much more intense; there would be a Kruger Court at Bramlage (or Bramlage would be Kruger Fieldhouse, or whatever); and our position as top dog in the conference would have faced a bit more of a challenge.

He should have stayed at K-State.

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FLJHK 2 years, 7 months ago

I've wondered that too. Kruger is a fine coach, but other than Larry Brown, coaches that bounce around so much don't get the respect and noteriety they might otherwise deserve. He could have been an institiution at K-State, and the conference would have been better for it.

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Steve Brown 2 years, 7 months ago

Agree, yet I heard his 'family' needed out of rural Kansas.

Not sure if any truth here, so don't quote it.

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Machawk 2 years, 7 months ago

I tend to agree that Kruger would have benefitted from staying at KSU, but the talk on the street back then was he was doing some coaching on the side.

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jhawkrulz 2 years, 7 months ago

I was at the KU game last year at OU. I worked in an office with a bunch of OU alumni, they didn't even know OU was playing a game, let alone against who. I remember every week the company would announce they had 4 tickets to the OU-whatever game and no one ever attended. OU doesn't care about basketball and if they were smart about it, they could actually use their football program to boost their basketball program, similar to how Florida did and other schools have done (ND, OSU, Michigan).

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Mike Kendall 2 years, 7 months ago

I like Lon Kruger---classy guy. When he and Jack Hartman were at K-State, KU fans like to be at the arena VS the Jayhawks because it would be an intense game. One of those fans was me.

Last year, I got to see KU at OU, in Noble Arena. It was awesome to see more KU fans than OU fans. Unfortunately, I will not be able to go this year. I got to meet Jesse Newell in person! Yo, yo--that was awesome! Rock Chalk!

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okiedave 2 years, 7 months ago

Tulsa World Sports Writer Guerin Emig states: This year Kansas team is "passive, careless and selfish." His speculation is that Oklahoma can beat Kansas this year because KU has no McDonald All Americans on the team and the first guy off the bench is a walk-on (Teahan).

Hope Teahan gets 20 pts and KU blows them out of the arena.

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Jeremy Paul 2 years, 7 months ago

Selfish? That's funny. He must have meant "Bill Self-ish."

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hammerhawk 2 years, 7 months ago

When Kruger gets things going, OK will be another difficult to beat Big 12 school.

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Steve Brown 2 years, 7 months ago

Lon was senior at State when we were freshmen, he was one cool hand Luke ice in his veins. One tough player and even better coach. He will build the Sooner program and become our biggest hurdle to titles in years to come.

Loved to yell at him in AFH and many of us caravaned to Ahearn to yell at them there, that is when the rivalry was amazing. Many years ago only one team from a region got to go to the March Tourney.

Everyone in AFH "when Hartman retired" recalls the nice purple and white golf bag Larry had Calvin and Ronnie present to coach. A class competitor. We gave him a standing ovation to show respect. Sort of like the Zulu's did at the end of that British movie......

Lon at OU will help the Big 12 power rankings and that will help us.

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KULA 2 years, 7 months ago

Anyone got a link to watch the game? I'm away from the tv

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bradh 2 years, 7 months ago

I just noticed on the KU Athletics site that the Texas A&M games don't show any TV coverage. It seems odd that the only games that aren't televised are the A&M games. Anyone know why?

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ku_jayhawk21 2 years, 7 months ago

According to the schedule the game is televised on ESPU again at 8pm CT

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danmoore 2 years, 7 months ago

Except for the NBA he has won everywhere he has coached. I expect him to win at OU. Wonder if K-State would take him back should Martin leave. Can't imagine leaving your alma mater. I would think that would be the dream job of most coaches.

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