Kruger to Receive Legends of Coaching Award

Ben Coldagelli
By Ben Coldagelli
Director of Communications

NORMAN – Recently concluding his 33rd season as a collegiate head coach, Lon Kruger has built his career on the foundation of hard work, humility, integrity and service. From becoming the first Division I coach to guide five different schools to the NCAA Tournament to his dedicated work with Coaches vs. Cancer, Kruger has established a reputation as a genuine leader, winning coach and community champion.

Kruger will be recognized this weekend as this year's John R. Wooden Award Legends of Coaching honoree.

The festivities begin when Kruger is honored on Thursday evening at the Wooden Award's annual Duke's Dinner at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. He will then be presented the award at Friday's ESPN College Basketball Awards Show at The Novo in Los Angeles, airing live at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN2.

Created in 1999, the Legends of Coaching honor recognizes college coaches who exemplify Coach Wooden's high standard of coaching success and personal integrity. The honorees are selected based on character, success on the court, graduation rate of student-athletes in their basketball program, coaching philosophy and identification with the goals of the John R. Wooden Award.

"John Wooden set the standard for coaching and leading with integrity and it's humbling to be recognized for an honor rooted in the values that he cherished."
- Lon Kruger

As this year's recipient, Kruger joins a prestigious list of previous honorees that includes Geno Auriemma, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Lute Olson, Bill Self, Dean Smith, Pat Summit and Roy Williams.

“It's an incredible honor to be listed with the coaches who have previously earned this award,” said Kruger upon learning of his selection in October. “John Wooden set the standard for coaching and leading with integrity and it's humbling to be recognized for an honor rooted in the values that he cherished.”

Kruger recently wrapped up his eighth campaign as head coach at Oklahoma with the 2018-19 season. After inheriting a program that went 27-36 (.429) in the two seasons prior to his arrival, Kruger has coached the Sooners to a 160-105 (.604) record in his eight years in Norman and has reached the NCAA Tournament in six of the past seven seasons.

One of Kruger's signature accomplishments has been the rebuilding stamp he's put on college basketball programs throughout his career. He was the first Division I coach to take five different schools to the NCAA Tournament and is the only coach to win an NCAA Tournament game with five programs. In 2015, he became the first and only coach since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to take four programs to the Sweet 16 or beyond. He is one of only three head coaches to ever lead four schools to multiple NCAA Tournament wins.

With a career record of 639-409 (.610), Kruger boasts the 10th-most career wins among active coaches and 30th-most all time. Kruger owns a 21-19 record in NCAA Tournament games and has compiled 17 20-plus-win seasons, including 10 in his last 14 years.

Over the past four seasons in Norman, Kruger has mentored three NBA draft picks, two consensus All-Americans, a national player of the year (Buddy Hield) and a national freshman of the year (Trae Young).

Lon Kruger is the only head coach in college basketball history to win an NCAA Tournament game with five different teams.

In 2017, Kruger was honored with the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Metropolitan Award for long and outstanding service to men's college basketball.

Kruger has also shown a passion for community leadership, particularly in the fight against cancer. Last summer, he was named council chair of Coaches vs. Cancer, a nationwide program partnering with the American Cancer Society and the NABC. Kruger has been a member of the Coaches vs. Cancer Council since 2007 and has been a longtime supporter of the American Cancer Society. As founder and chairman of the Coaches vs. Cancer Las Vegas Golf Classic, Kruger's leadership has helped the event raise over $3.5 million over the last 11 years.

In 2017, Kruger was a recipient of the American Cancer Society's prestigious St. George National Award for his extraordinary service to the community in support of the Society's mission to save lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer. Kruger was also recognized in 2012 with the Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award and in 2009 with the Legacy and Leadership Visionary Award from the ACS Las Vegas region.

Quotes on Kruger:

Dana Altman, Head Coach, Oregon

“Coach is a great competitor. Don't take that quiet, reserved look as not being competitive. Everything he does, he wants to be the best. He wants his teams to perform at their best...Coach has a great feel for the game. He's got a great mind, great instincts...He's got a great feel offensively and a great feel for connecting with players and getting them to play their hardest, to overcome their weaknesses. He's a great teacher of the game.”

R.C. Buford, General Manager, San Antonio Spurs

“Taking five different programs to the NCAA Tournament as well as being an NBA head coach shows a real consistency of message, a real consistency of purpose. He has an ability to recruit people that fit the program he's been building and the style he wants to play. He really knows who he is and how he wants to run a program and he knows how to recruit people and build a team in a way that fits the values and the vision that he has for those programs.”

Joe Castiglione, Director of Athletics, Oklahoma

“With Coach Kruger it starts with culture first. He knows what he wants from the kind of program he's developing. He's very careful to try and get people who are directly aligned with the core values of the program, the way that they're going to play on the court and, most importantly, the way that they're going to teach the players. It's always very positive, always very upbeat, always encouraging. I think that's why he's been able to go from one program to another and take them from years of struggling to becoming not only an NCAA Tournament participant, but to go all the way to the Final Four...We saw that manifest itself in front of our very eyes by helping get Oklahoma back to a Final Four.”

Steve Henson, Head Coach, UTSA

“He's certainly terrific with the X and O's part, but what really sets him apart is his communication with the players. It's an open dialogue, genuine care and concern about the players. There's terrific chemistry on his teams every year because there's never any doubt about where a player stands. He has an open dialogue with them every single day and an open-door policy. He has great communication and express his concern for them.”

Buddy Hield, 2016 National Player of the Year

“My relationship with Coach Kruger has been great. He's a mentor, a guy who's always been positive for me and uplifting me. A guy who gave me a chance when nobody believed in me. In college I could always go to and talk basketball and he helped me become the person that I am on and off the basketball court. He grew me as a man and as a mentor. He taught me the right characteristics and goals for my college life and how those could translate on and off the basketball court. It means a lot. He's a big part of my success.”

Christian James, Senior Guard, Oklahoma

“He teaches the game the right way. He's always going to put you in a situation to succeed, that's what his plays are based off of. He wants to show everybody what he's about and he plays the game the right way. The biggest thing for him is wanting to see us grow throughout the season. That's why he has open practices - he wants people to see our development over the course of four years.”

Roy Williams, Head Coach, North Carolina

“Lon Kruger has the whole package. He can coach, he's very organized, very bright and knows how to deal with people. He works hard at the game and he works hard at helping people. To me, those are the things that are really, really important. The other thing I think about is the greatest complement of all. If my son were a college player and he had a chance to play for Lon Kruger, that would be the neatest thing.”