New men's basketball coach discusses his first three months on the job and much more.
June 27, 2011
NORMAN, Okla. -- Lon Kruger doesn't have much spare time, and that's just fine with him. Hired April 1 and charged with revitalizing the OU men's basketball program, the new Sooner head coach has been here, there and just about everywhere in between the last three months, learning about Oklahoma, making friends on campus and in the community, and drumming up support for his team. The not-so-minor details of finalizing his staff, getting acquainted with his players and finding a place to live have also occupied a good chunk of his time.
Kruger took a brief break from his chaotic schedule late last week to sit down with SoonerSports.com for the following two-part question-and-answer session that touches on a wide variety of topics. This marks the first of two installments of the Q&A, with part two slated for Wednesday, June 29.
SoonerSports.com: It's been almost three months since you were hired. How has the transition gone?
Lon Kruger: "The transition's been great. With any transition, there's a period of time where you're uprooted, without a base. Sooner Legends (hotel) has been our home and Doug and Val (Kennon) have been terrific hosts over there for all of our coaches and their families when they've visited. But still, we're looking forward to getting the families here, getting settled and moving to that next stage of transition."
Q: What are your early impressions about the people in the state and at the university?
A: "The people are unbelievable, which is not a great surprise. We've known of (Athletics Director) Joe Castiglione, and having met President (David) Boren (during the interview process) -- to see the people they have working with and for them, it's what you'd expect. They're great leaders and it's obvious that the people at the university and in the athletics department are terrific people and they've made us feel very welcomed."
Q: Have you and your wife found a house yet?
A: "We have, actually. We'll close on July 15th. It'll be a little while after that before we get moved in, but we're excited about that and it will make us feel much more settled, for sure. My wife, Barb, has a horse and we'll have a few acres with a barn. It's kind of what we both grew up with. We both grew up in rural areas and she grew up with horses and competed with barrels and poles. We'll bring her horse, Dancer, from Vegas. It should be easy in Oklahoma for her to meet people who are really into horses."
Q: Do you ever ride Dancer?
A: "I've not ridden Dancer. It's been a few years, but I have ridden with (Barb). It was more during our time dating back in college. I didn't do it only because we were dating; I enjoyed it as well. But the dating may have influenced me to ride more than I would have otherwise."
Q: How did you meet Barb?
A: "We both went to Kansas State and we started dating before our junior year. She was a gymnast at Kansas State and was on the dance squad. We actually knew of each other before college because we were from the same area. She was from Topeka and I was from Silver Lake, a smaller town outside Topeka. But we started dating and have been married 35 years last December."
Q: Can you tell fans a little bit about your children?
A: "Our daughter, Angie, lives in Vegas and will have been married for two years this September. She's an OB; she delivers babies and loves what she does. Her husband, Mike, works in the venture capital world. He has an attorney's background but doesn't practice law. Our son, Kevin, is in his fifth year of playing professional basketball and recently signed to play in Belgium. He's bounced between the NBA Developmental League and overseas, and has gained from the experience. He loves to play. I imagine he'll move into the coaching world at some point, but right now he's playing and loving it."
Q: What are some of your most vivid memories about competing against Oklahoma when you were the head coach at Kansas State?
A: "They had great teams; probably Billy Tubbs' best teams, from 1986 to 1990. They, of course, played in the 1988 national championship game. We had great battles. We didn't win our share because they were really good. We had Mitch Richmond, Steve Henson and some other really good players, too. We always had good battles. Ricky Grace, Mookie Blaylock, Stacey (King), Jeff Webster -- all those guys could really score and made it tough on all their opponents. Lloyd Noble Center was rocking and we were making the transition from Ahearn (Fieldhouse) and Bramlage (Coliseum) at that time. But great environments and great battles."
Q: Billy Tubbs wasn't necessarily the most revered coach in the Big Eight outside of Norman. Did you have a good relationship with him at the time?
A: "I always did, actually. I thought he brought great personality to the game. The Big Eight (Conference) coaches in those days were a great group of coaches. You start with Coach (Jack) Hartman at Kansas State before me, Norm Stewart at Missouri, Johnny Orr at Iowa State, Billy at Oklahoma. You go down the line a long way -- (former Sooner) Ted Owens and Larry Brown, both at Kansas. They were all outstanding coaches and interesting personalities, as well."
Q: You were a multi-sports star in high school and even college. What was your favorite sport to play?
A: "Growing up, I always loved baseball. It was clearly my favorite. Back in the early '60s, I was of that vintage where you just thought you were going to be a Major League Baseball player. That's just the way it was. I thought I'd play baseball for a living. So that was my first love. But coming from a small town with a graduating class of 35, guys enjoyed playing whatever sport was in season. We played baseball, we played basketball, we played football. And those with a little more speed ran track. Whatever season it was, we enjoyed that the most. Friday night football was probably the most fun environment and atmosphere; under the lights on those fall evenings. I always enjoyed practicing basketball more than the other sports."
Q: You were drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals as a pitcher after college. How long did you play professional baseball?
A: "One year. I was drafted by the Cardinals in the summer of 1974 and went to rookie league in Sarasota and a couple weeks later to 'A' ball in St. Pete. I finished the season in late August or early September and then went overseas to play basketball in Israel for a new European league. We made the playoffs and I didn't make it back in time for spring training. The Cardinals didn't call. I don't think they were too concerned about it."
Q: Was that disappointing for you?
A: "Yeah, I was disappointed not to go to spring training. But the next fall I went to the (Detroit) Pistons' camp, played through the exhibition season and got cut just prior to opening day. Then got married and turned to coaching."
Q: Growing up not too far from Kansas City, were you a fan of the local professional teams?
A: "Absolutely, always a Royals and Chiefs fan. All the way back to the old Kansas City Athletics, actually, before they moved to Oakland. A big couple days every summer would be Dad and the kids, and maybe an uncle or two and their kids, jumping in the car and going to Kansas City. Back in the early '60s, that was kind of an event and a trip for us. We didn't do without anything we needed or wanted, but those occasions were pretty special and a big investment for us. Even in those days, taking everyone down there was a costly adventure."
Q: What type of food would you classify as your favorite?
A: "I like everything, quite frankly. Midwestern -- I'm a steak-and-potato guy -- or barbecue or Mexican food; they're all great. I mean, literally, there's not much I don't like in terms of food. I'm pretty easy to please in that area."
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: "We've always centered it around family things, especially when the kids were younger. The fortunate thing we've been able to do is incorporate family time into (the basketball) program and we've always been able to intermix the two. We've always done that with all of our coaches' families. We'll have their kids at practice every day. That's why it's very easy to have practices open (to the public). What we do is very important, but we don't take it so seriously that we don't encourage everyone to enjoy it. If our coaches can spend a little extra time with their kids because they're at practice, that's much better."
Q: Do you have any favorite vacation spots?
A: "Barb and I have talked about this; we're not big vacation people. We've said many times, what we do every day is a lot of fun so we don't look for breaks or look for things to do. And then we lived in Vegas for the last seven years and people came out there to vacation and visit us. Angie and Kev still live in Vegas so I would imagine any free time we get would be spent traveling back there and visiting them."
...to be continued Wednesday, June 29...