Dana Altman and Lon Kruger won’t be rooting for each other Saturday

ANAHEIM, Calif. — There probably will come a time late this summer, perhaps on the Old Course of St. Andrews or Muirfield or Turnberry or Royal Dornoch, across the wondrous links and renowned gems that are Scotland’s grandest golf courses, when Lon Kruger or Dana Altman will shank a shot into a stone wall.

And the other guy, depending on what happens in a certain college basketball game today, will either offer an expression of support or a devilish smirk.

Kruger and Altman define the idea that the best mirror is an old friend, having met more than three decades ago and remained close as coaching careers led them to different parts of the country and various programs to lead.

But when Altman and his Oregon team meet Kruger and Oklahoma in the West Regional final of the NCAA Tournament at 3:09 p.m. inside the Honda Center, the winner earning a place in the Final Four next week, an incredibly strong bond shared will pause for a few hours.

“We’ve taken golf trips together and have planned one for Scotland (this summer),” Kruger said. “We’re doing it, regardless of what happens (today).

“I still plan on going. I hope he does, too.”

It all began with Mitch Richmond.

Long before he played 14 seasons in the NBA and made six All-Star teams and had his jersey retired by the Sacramento Kings and was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Richmond was a guard for Moberly Community College in Missouri, his team ranked No. 1 nationally and his coach a young guy named Dana Altman.

Kruger had just been hired to coach his alma mater at Kansas State and needed players. Moberly had a lot of them. He not only signed three but also hired the coach.

“I’m not sure he hired me,” Altman said. “I just think he wanted my team. So while I owe much of my career to Coach Kruger, I probably owe more to Mitch Richmond. I wouldn’t be sitting here today if not for Mitch. That had a big, big impact on me, no question.

“Before going to work for Coach Kruger as (an assistant), I had never experienced anything Division I. I was a bad player. I was lucky to walk on at a junior college. Coach was unbelievable to work for. A great friend and mentor for 30 years. We’ve never (scheduled) each other over the years for a reason: We didn’t want to play.

“But once the (NCAA) pairings came out a couple weeks ago, we talked and said if we were both fortunate enough to get to this point, at least one of us would be going to the Final Four. If we’re fortunate enough to win, I’m sure he will be happy for us. And if we lose, I know I will be happy for him.”

Kruger has been to the Promised Land of college basketball, having led Florida to a Final Four during the 1993-94 season. He is 63, six years Altman’s elder, and has made college head coaching stops at Texas-Pan American and Kansas State and Florida and Illinois and UNLV and now Oklahoma. Altman has advanced to his first Elite Eight here and has been the boss at Marshall and Kansas State and Creighton and now Oregon.

Their teams this season each feature terrific guard play, but if there is a difference, it is in the size and quickness and at times scary athleticism of the Ducks.

“(Altman) has been fantastic from Day 1,” Kruger said. “Very knowledgeable, great rapport with players, clearly understood what it took, had a presence about him, a demeanor that you could tell he was going to be a great coach. He has done all of that. He’s an easy guy to cheer for. This all comes very natural to Dana.

“I don’t know if you can fully have the perspective of being in a Final Four unless you get there. You really have an appreciation for how hard it is to do. Going to the Elite Eight is special, but the Final Four is different.”

The golf trip to Scotland will take place after the summer recruiting period in August, an idea brought up by Kruger last year and one that will include the coaches and a few friends.

“It could be uneasy for one of us depending on (today’s outcome),” Altman said.

At some point, one of them is likely to shank a shot into a stone wall.

Depending on how the other reacts, you will know which friend reached the Promised Land.

Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney

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