Aug. 10, 2011
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma announced Lon Kruger as its 14th head men's basketball coach on April 1. The 2011-12 season will mark the 26th year as a collegiate head coach for Kruger, who owns a 479-304 (.612) career record. A two-time Big Eight Conference Player of the Year at Kansas State (1973 and '74), Kruger compiled a 161-71 (.694) record the last seven seasons at UNLV, including a sparkling 127-44 (.743) mark the last five years for an average of 25.4 wins.
Oklahoma is Kruger's sixth collegiate coaching stop. He has directed teams to 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and is one of two coaches to lead four programs to multiple wins in the event. Kruger coached his 1988 Kansas State team to the Elite Eight, his 1994 Florida squad to the Final Four and his 2007 UNLV team to the Sweet 16.
On Oct. 14, Kruger's Sooners will hit the hardwood for the official start of practice. Coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the mid 1960's, OU will likely be an underdog in the competitive Big 12 Conference. If there's one thing Kruger has proven at each of his five previous collegiate coaching stops, however, it's that he can turn around a program in a hurry. Plus, the Sooners return the majority of their statistical production from last year.
SoonerSports.com has put together the following summer OU basketball preview, featuring notes on the upcoming season and a Q&A with Kruger. A PDF of the full 14-page document is also available for download in the box below.
|2011 Summer Prospectus (PDF) | Kruger Comments on Returning Players | 2011-12 Schedule (PDF)|
Thanks to the loss of just one senior from last season (guard Cade Davis), the Sooners return the bulk of their production in every statistical category. That includes 76 percent of the team's points, 76 percent of its rebounds, 80 percent of its assists, 84 percent of its blocks and 79 percent of its steals. OU also returns 63 percent of its 3-point field goal and 79 percent of its free throw production.
Six of OU's top eight scorers last season were freshmen or sophomores. Those six players accounted for 70 percent of the team's points and 63 percent of its rebounds last year, and all six return for the 2011-12 season.
Junior forward Andrew Fitzgerald is the Sooners' leading returning scorer (12.6 ppg) and rebounder (5.0 rpg). The 6-8, 243-pounder was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection and recorded at least 15 points 12 times. He started all 32 games and led OU's regulars with his .486 field goal percentage. He also paced the team with 34 steals and 21 blocks.
The other three returning starters are guards: juniors Steven Pledger and Carl Blair, and sophomore Cameron Clark. Pledger (6-4, 221) started 26 games and averaged 10.9 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists while making 62 treys and shooting a team-high .851 from the free throw line. He scored 38 points at Iowa State, tied for the most by a Big 12 player in league action. Clark (6-6, 197) started all 32 contests and averaged 9.3 points, 4.5 boards and 1.1 assists in 33.6 minutes per game (ranked eighth in the Big 12 in playing time). He averaged 13.1 points in OU's wins. Blair (6-2, 206) started 25 games at point guard, including each of the final 22, after transferring from New Orleans. He averaged 7.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and a team-high 4.7 assists (ranked third in Big 12). Blair scored in double figures 10 times and handed out at least five assists on 16 occasions.
Also back are sophomore forward Tyler Neal (6-7, 224), sophomore guard Calvin Newell (6-1, 199), senior forward C.J. Washington (6-7, 228), senior forward Barry Honoré (6-7, 266) and senior guard T.J. Franklin (5-11, 177). Neal and Newell averaged 4.2 and 3.5 points, respectively, with Neal also pulling down 2.3 rebounds per outing and Newell adding 1.5 assists. Washington is the team's lone senior on scholarship and is coming off a rookie year in which he averaged 2.5 points and 3.1 boards in 11.8 minutes a contest. Honoré contributed 1.2 points and 1.0 rebound a game while Franklin totaled four points and two assists in his 12 outings.
The Sooners welcome five newcomers to the roster, with three of them expected to play significant roles in 2011-12. Junior forward Romero Osby (6-8, 237) sat out last year after transferring from Mississippi State and, according to former head coach Jeff Capel, was OU's best player in practice last season. In two years at MSU, Osby averaged 4.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in an average of 12.8 minutes a game. Junior college transfer Sam Grooms (6-1, 200) is expected to share time at point guard. The nation's third-best junior college player last year according to JucoRecruiting.com, Grooms averaged 11.1 points and 5.9 assists as a sophomore for national power Chipola College in Florida. Fellow juco transfer Casey Arent (6-10, 235) is the tallest player on OU's roster. He was rated the country's 22nd-best junior college player by JucoRecruiting.com after averaging 19.1 points and 11.4 rebounds as a sophomore for Sierra College in California.
Also new to the team are Wyoming transfer Amath M'Baye (6-9, 215; pronounced ah-MOTT EM-by) and walk-on guard James Fraschilla (5-10, 140). M'Baye, a forward, averaged 12.0 points and a team-high 5.7 rebounds as a sophomore last year and will sit out the 2011-12 season due to transfer rules.
|Q&A with Head Coach Lon Kruger|
Q: A lot of fans are interested in knowing what kind of "style" you ideally like to play. How would you describe it to them?
A: "We always take into consideration our players and their abilities, but ideally we'd like to dictate on both ends, pressure man (-to-man) defensively with a lot of activity, try to create offense from defense, force turnovers and get into transition. Offensively -- and you have to rebound the ball well to do this -- we want to push the ball and be on the attack. We want to compete to get great shots each time down the court and we want to do that as quickly as we can because we want to emphasize that up-tempo type of play."
Q: This is your sixth collegiate coaching stop. How long does it normally take you to assemble the type of personnel that allows you to play that style?
A: "Generally, it's easier to play any style after you've been able to recruit to that style. Here at Oklahoma, we don't inherit a lot of size, but we inherit some guys who can play that (up-tempo) style. So we expect to jump up there right away and get after it and play very aggressively."
Q: You had a chance to work with the team on the court for a couple of weeks soon after you were hired. How much were you able to learn and what were your impressions of the group?
A: "We'll learn much more about them throughout the fall, but our first impressions are that they want to work hard and they want to have a good basketball team. From Coach (Jeff) Capel's time here, it's obvious that they know how to work hard. They line up every day and work to get better. That's a good starting point."
Q: What do you perceive as some of the team's strengths and weaknesses?
A: "It appears to be a group that can make shots. We'll have pretty good mobility, but clearly not much size. That will just encourage us to play different ways and do different things, but that's OK."
Q: What are your impressions of the frontcourt players and what are some things you can do to combat the lack of size on the roster?
A: "Rebounding is related to that lack of size probably more than any other area. We'll have to get the guards to get back in there and rebound and make it a five-man effort every time a shot goes up. That can restrict our offensive transition a little bit, but on the other hand, the best break is when a guard gets the rebound and pushes it and gets right into the break. So we'll have great emphasis on rebounding will all five guys on the court from day one."
Q: Romero Osby (pictured to the right) sat out last year after transferring from Mississippi State. What have you seen from him that you like and what position or positions do you envision him playing?
A: "Romero's flexibility will allow us to put him in different spots. He's a perimeter guy by nature, but he's strong and big and can be a tough matchup at that 4 spot. So that versatility that he brings is a big plus. The things I've been most impressed with from Roe are his sincerity with regard to having a good team and working really hard individually to be a good leader through his actions and his words. Sometimes that's difficult to do for a guy who transferred in and sat out a year. But he's anxious to do whatever he needs to do to contribute to the team's attitude and work ethic."
Q: How do you like the collection of guards you have to work with?
A: "That's where it appears we'll have some depth. Carl Blair returns at point guard and Sam Grooms comes in from junior college to help handle those duties out front. We're sliding Calvin Newell over (from point) to join Steven Pledger and Cameron Clark on the wing. Often times we'll have three guards on the floor, so we're used to and like playing that way. That gives us a lot of versatility in terms of ball handling, guys who can penetrate and make shots."
Q: Can you comment on the three players you signed in the spring and what they bring to the table?
A: "Sam, Casey Arent and Amath M'Baye all bring something that we need. Sam gives us an additional point guard and a guy who's a very good leader and gives direction to a team. We didn't have a lot of depth at that position with Carl being the only scholarship point guard who returns for us. Casey brings us size. We don't have a lot of that. He'll give Andrew Fitzgerald and C.J. Washington some help on the interior. Amath is one of those Romero Osby type of players in terms of his versatility. He can play inside or outside and is a very good worker, scorer, rebounder. He'll really work hard on his game during this redshirt season to get better."
Q: Specifically, in what areas would you like Amath to improve the most?
A: "Amath has a really strong mid-range game and is good in the wide post. He'll improve his range this year, shoot more 3's. At 6-8 or 6-9, he's long and active and is a difficult guy to guard. He runs the floor, he's a good rebounder and competes like crazy. He'll use the year to improve in a lot of areas."
Q: Carl Blair started 25 games at point guard last year and Sam Grooms was a highly rated point guard in junior college. What are you expecting from those guys at that position?
A: "It'll be a joint effort. We're going to play a lot of guys this year and we'll need everyone to step in and contribute in any way that they can. Carl and Sam will man those point guard duties and will do it together. It'll be a case of them pushing each other to get better every day in practice. They could even be on the floor together at the same time; we'll have a lot of different combinations out there. So I'm sure they'll handle those responsibilities well."
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Q: How familiar are you with the other nine coaches in the league and what kind of response have you gotten from them since arriving at OU?
A: "I know all of them to some degree. Certainly in the coaching world, over time, you meet everyone and spend time with everyone in different ways. I have a great deal of respect for all of the Big 12 coaches. They've done well, been successful in the league and that's the way it should be."
Q: Have you had a chance to gauge the strength of the league? What's your assessment of it for this year?
A: "All I basically know is based upon what I read about the teams -- don't know about them so much firsthand. We played Kansas State the last couple of years (while at UNLV) and that's really the only firsthand knowledge. I know how tough Frank Martin's teams are, how hard they've played and how well they've played under his guidance. And they'll keep doing that, for sure. I've watched other teams on television but that's about it. The league will be tough. Sounds like Missouri returns a lot of guys, Baylor, Texas A&M, of course Kansas, Texas -- you just go down the list and they're all very good programs. Iowa State will get better each year that Fred (Hoiberg) is there. It's always going to be tough in the Big 12."
Q: You have quite a history of turning around programs soon after you were hired. What are some of the biggest keys to successfully doing that?
A: "Every place is unique, of course, but it comes down to having good players and good people who want to be at the university and compete hard to represent it well. You develop that a little bit more as time goes on, but right off the bat you want to establish a good starting point and then move forward aggressively."