Kruger's home - and heart - firmly anchored in Las Vegas


A couple of years ago, two Las Vegas sports writers were having lunch with one of the big shots at Southern Highlands when conversation turned to the new country club and pro shop going up in the distance.

Then we found out this wasn't a new country club and pro shop. It was then-UNLV basketball coach Lon Kruger's new house, beginning to take shape.

Kruger is no longer UNLV's coach. He is now Oklahoma's coach.

He kept the country club and the pro shop and the two acres and the golf membership at Southern Highlands.

There are two points to be made here.

The first is that while the robber barons in Norman, Okla., offered him a boatload of cash - and when he said "no" to that, they filled up the Sooner Schooner, too, until only a fool would say "no" - it wasn't like he wasn't appreciated here.

The second is that we haven't seen the last of Lon Kruger around these parts.    

"We loved our time here. People were great and very kind to us," said the 59-year-old coach and wandering basketball minstrel, back in town for the American Cancer Society's Coaches vs. Cancer golf outing, cocktail party and silent auction he helped found five years ago.

"We'll think of this being our home, and in a way, it probably will be for the rest of our lives."

Kruger's daughter, Angie, and her husband, Mike, live in the house at Southern Highlands.

The coach's son, Kevin, who scored 16 points, handed out seven assists and pulled down six rebounds in the Rebels' 74-68 victory over second-seeded Wisconsin in Chicago in the second round of March Madness, circa 2007, also makes his home in Southern Nevada.

Angie Kruger is going to make Lon and Barb Kruger grandparents in October. If it's a boy, chances are the baby won't be named for Bo Ryan, who still complains about the NCAA loophole that allowed Kevin Kruger to play for his old man without sitting out after transferring from Arizona State.   

"There is a direct flight from Oklahoma City to Vegas. I'm sure Barb is going to wear that out," Lon Kruger said.

Except for his alma mater Kansas State, which Oklahoma swept, Kruger's Sooners didn't wear out much of anybody last season. They went 15-16, 5-13 in the Big 12, after going 14-18 and 5-11 the previous year under Jeff Capel.

But this is a program that's produced 26 NCAA Tournament appearances and four Final Four qualifiers and Alvan Adams and Wayman Tisdale and Blake Griffin. It also is mostly responsible for Kelvin Sampson, though it generally keeps that to itself.

This also is a program that has the resources, thanks mostly to football coaching icons Bud Wilkinson and Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer and the wannabe icon, Bob Stoops - and the TV deal - to return to lofty heights in basketball.

It is paying Kruger handsomely - $16.6 million, seven years, roughly twice what he was making at UNLV - to take the Sooners back to these lofty heights. Plus six comped football season tickets.

Even without the football tickets, it would be a pretty good deal.

"Here, we had everything we needed. It wasn't a bad thing at all," said Kruger, who stayed at UNLV longer than anywhere else, compiling a 161-71 record over seven seasons.

"But at some point, you have to look after other people, and yes, there were some extra dollars - not that we think about it in those terms."

When Kruger was asked about the money, he lowered his voice for fear somebody wearing a swanky cocktail dress at the cocktail reception at the Hyde lounge at Bellagio might hear him.

His Midwestern values were kicking in. Talking about personal wealth isn't Lon Kruger's style. Neither, for that matter, are swanky cocktail dresses.

Being the first one there to sign miniature basketballs for a silent auction, that's more Lon Kruger's style.

Spotting a reporter standing off to the side in the press room after just getting hammered by Louisville at home on the night before Thanksgiving - and then coming over to said reporter to wish him and his wife a Happy Thanksgiving - that's more Lon Kruger's style.

Lon Kruger was, and is, a class act.

In retrospect, this was the right man for the job at UNLV, the perfect stepping stone from a glorious past to a promising future, a bridge over basketball waters that had become troubled.

My guess is that this is how Rebels fans will choose to remember him.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

 

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