As reports spread Friday that coach Lon Kruger was leaving UNLV for Oklahoma, Carlos Lopez said he initially considered the calendar. The date was April 1.
"I really thought it was an April Fools’ joke," the Rebels’ freshman forward said.
Eventually, Lopez realized the truth. Kruger’s seven-year run in Las Vegas was done, and he accepted a seven-year contract worth about $2.2 million per year to coach the Sooners.
"I can’t lie, yes, I’m sad," Lopez said. "He was the guy who recruited me and the guy who believed me and the guy who taught me how to work hard. This is a business, and we understand Coach Kruger wants the best for him and his family."
Kruger caught a flight from Texas and met with the UNLV team at 9:30 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center. Only five of the 11 returning scholarship players showed up for a meeting that lasted about 10 minutes.
Lopez and senior guard Kendall Wallace were joined by junior Oscar Bellfield and sophomores Reggie Smith and Quintrell Thomas.
Noticeably absent were starters Anthony Marshall and Chace Stanback.
"Maybe some of the guys are mad and hurt," said Lopez, adding that a couple players were out of town. "Coach Kruger didn’t say much. Those meetings are not easy for either end. He was very short. He said to keep our grades up and finish strong."
Wallace, who redshirted last season because of a knee injury and will return for the 2011-12 season, said Kruger’s sudden departure surprised everyone on the team.
"I didn’t believe it at first, but we figured out later in the day it was true," Wallace said. "The guys don’t know what to think right now. No one has really been through it.
"People didn’t know what to feel and what to think. Some guys don’t really know how to handle it."
Kruger had told several players early in the week not to believe the rumors of his interest in the Oklahoma job. At that point, Kruger said he told Oklahoma officials, "Thanks but no thanks," to the offer.
"What I told (the players) was exactly the truth," Kruger said. "Things change."
Kruger called most of the Rebels’ players before leaving Texas.
"Those are the most difficult meetings because it’s just so sudden," he said Friday night. "One day you’re thinking one direction and the next day it’s all different. These guys are so special to us."
Kruger said he plans to take his entire coaching staff to Oklahoma. Wallace said UNLV’s players need to "move on and be ready for whoever comes in" to replace Kruger.
"I’m definitely a little disappointed, but it was a good offer he had so we can’t blame him," Wallace said. "We wish him the best of luck."
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.