OU players happy with Lon Kruger despite .500 season
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
3/06/12 at 3:27 PM
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Lon Kruger doesn't rant or rave. He doesn't cuss or fuss. He will, however, shoot you a look.
No, he'll shoot you The Look.
This much the Oklahoma Sooners know after spending their first season playing for their head coach.
"The Look. I've got it down pat now," OU point guard Sam Grooms said. "He claps his hands and looks at you like, 'If you don't do it, you may not play the rest of the night.' That's the feeling you get, and your heart starts beating kind of fast. He's a scary man at times. Without yelling, he's really scary.
"When he does that, you know you're close to reaching that line. Your time is drawing near. You'd better do something. Dive on the floor, take a charge, something to help the team."
Kruger has shot that look a lot this season, seeing as how OU enters Wednesday's 6 p.m. Big 12 Tournament opener against Texas A&M as a No. 8 seed, with a 15-15 record which includes a 5-13 league ledger.
If things haven't gone as the Sooners hoped after their 10-2 nonconference start, however, nobody in the program sounds discouraged. Players go just as hard in practice as they did in November, encourage each other just as much.
Basically, they still act as they did the first time they stepped on the court with their newly hired coach last April. Back then, they had heard positive things about Kruger. They just couldn't be sure.
"I know we'll have this thing turned around while I'm here," junior guard Steven Pledger said. "A lot of that is because of Coach."
Athletic director Joe Castiglione hitched the near future of his basketball program to Kruger last spring. Fans who studied Kruger's 25-year history of reclamation projects followed suit.
It was left for the players to do so. Nearly a year later, they have. Asked for a reason, many start with offshoots of The Look. They start with Kruger's intensity.
"He keeps a positive outlook on things. He talks positively to us and in the media. But he hates losing as much as we do," forward Romero Osby said. "He's one of those guys that's not going to accept losing. He's a fiery competitor. You don't coach at the level he has if you don't hate to lose."
The Sooners appreciate that about Kruger, just as they appreciate that positive outlook. All of the talk about the new coach's gentlemanly manner last spring? It also proved to be true.
"I'm used to coaches going crazy on the sideline, cursing," Grooms said. "He doesn't curse you."
"He's a great face of the program in that sense," forward Tyler Neal said. "People genuinely like him. Everyone I've talked to who has met him, all of my friends, say they couldn't be happier he's the coach here."
The Sooners are as impressed with Kruger's Xs and Os and his Ps and Qs.
"I've learned that he's a master at preparation," Neal said. "One thing the guys can take from this year and learn from him is the amount of preparation he puts in. He's always ready for whoever we're going up against, ready to help us."
Things like scouting reports and designed plays out of timeouts - recall Osby's open layup in the closing minute of OU's win over A&M last Saturday - have given the Sooners hope. So has the example Kruger sets.
"We're not individuals out here. We're a team now," said junior forward Andrew Fitzgerald, who had spent his previous two seasons on fractured OU teams. "We're consistent with everything on and off the court. We take ownership and are accountable.
"I can see a lot of improvement."
It's subtle to the outside world, the Sooners' 15-15 record slightly better than their 14-18 of a year ago, their 13-18 of the year before that. Those on the inside see things a little more clearly, however.
There is some light ahead, for the first time since Blake Griffin left Norman. And if the 19-year-old star player has been replaced by the 59-year-old coach as face of the program, that's just fine with the program.
"I don't want to just say he's a good coach. He's a good man," Osby said. "He's a role model to a lot of people because of the way he does things. He tries to get the most out of every day. That's on the court and off it. He tells us get everything out of the classroom, get everything out of the basketball court.
"A coach with that mentality, even at his age and after all the success he's had, and he still wants to get better? How can we as players not want to get better?
"There's not a day that goes by where he doesn't teach me something, and teach my teammates. I still believe in him, and I still believe we're going to turn this thing around."
In this Jan. 10 file photo, OU head coach Lon Kruger talks with Steven Pledger during a timeout in the second half of their Bedlam game against OSU in Stillwater. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World File