weather icon Mostly Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

UNLV hires new basketball coach — with a familiar last name

Updated March 21, 2021 - 8:34 pm

Instead of engaging in a lengthy, exhaustive search for its next basketball coach, UNLV opted to promote assistant Kevin Kruger into the job, the school announced Sunday evening.

Kruger, who played at UNLV under his father, Lon, spent two years on T.J. Otzelberger’s coaching staff. He was previously an assistant at Oklahoma and Northern Arizona after a professional playing career that included stops in the G League, Bulgaria, Italy, Mexico, Belgium and Germany.

He was set to be formally introduced during a virtual news conference Monday morning. Kruger succeeds Otzelberger, who last week accepted the head coaching position at Iowa State.

“As we methodically went through the interview process speaking to many strong candidates, Kevin impressed us with his vision, the depth and sophistication of his plan, and his enthusiasm,” UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said in a statement.

“He cares about student-athletes and helping them achieve their hopes and dreams. He has demonstrated integrity and consistent leadership, and his love for UNLV and our Las Vegas community is without question,” she added. “He is a Rebel, has helped the program develop a strong foundation and has been preparing his entire life for this. I am proud that Kevin and his family will be with us for years to come.”

UNLV wanted to move quickly after Otzelberger’s departure to provide the players on the roster a fair opportunity to assess their futures amid what’s expected to be an expansive transfer market in wake of the pandemic. Reed-Francois was interested in other candidates, such as Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd.

But there was always a chance she’d stay in-house to retain some semblance of the continuity the program has sorely lacked since the days of Jerry Tarkanian. The 37-year-old Kruger definitely provides that, having played for the Rebels in 2006-07 and coached at UNLV the past two years.

He said he’s “speechless” in a statement released Sunday.

“This is home for me and my family,” Kruger said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to work with the guys on our team. We will get after it and build on the foundation that has been set.”

That foundation in place yielded a 12-15 record this season and an exit in the second round of the Mountain West tournament. Players can transfer without sitting out a year, and it’s likely that some of the Rebels will at least explore their options via the transfer portal.

But there is some talent in place, along with a rich but fading tradition of which Kruger is a part. He did lead the Rebels to their last Sweet Sixteen appearance during his lone season as their point guard.

Maybe he can bring them back there. This time as their coach.

“I am excited that Kevin will serve as the new head coach for UNLV men’s basketball,” UNLV president Dr. Keith E. Whitfield said in a statement. “Kevin has demonstrated incredible knowledge, high integrity and preparation for this opportunity. I am enthused about the direction the athletics department is going under Desiree’s leadership. Kevin is the perfect person to lead our Runnin’ Rebel basketball team.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Michigan coach heaps praise on Lady Rebels

Michigan women’s coach Kim Barnes Arico said UNLV’s depth and balance make them one of the country’s best teams. She also said the Lady Rebels’ Desi-Rae Young “can do everything.”