Homegrown values remain a vital staple to OU basketball coach Lon Kruger
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Saturday, April 21, 2012
4/21/12 at 4:46 AM
NORMAN - Lon Kruger grew up in Silver Lake, Kan., a half-century ago around three midwestern bedrocks: family, sports and virtue.
He would play summer baseball or tag along with his father to the golf course in nearby Topeka and hit behind him. He would join his parents, four brothers and sister for supper. He would absorb an overriding lesson.
"We didn't have a lot of rules, just the idea of treating others right and being considerate and being respectful. That was a huge expectation of my parents," Kruger said. "If you don't have anything good to say about someone else, never say anything at all. We were very poor gossippers. It just didn't happen at home. And you never talk about yourself. Ever. If you do something worthy, others will take care of that for you.
"Little things like that were driven home every day. Not overtly, but just in conversations around the dinner table. That's where it all started."
Fifty years later, the setting has changed. Kruger has been a basketball coach in cities like Atlanta and Las Vegas. Now he runs a million-dollar college program at Oklahoma. The times certainly have changed.
Those heartland values of his, though, are as sturdy as ever.
Kruger picked up the 2012 Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award over Final Four weekend in New Orleans recently. This mainly for his five years as CEO of the Coaches vs. Cancer Las Vegas Golf Classic, an event that has raised $750,000 for research, education and treatment programs.
At OU, Kruger often conducts practice in a T-shirt promoting a local charity. If the cause involves children, they are encouraged to both watch practice, then take the court and shoot baskets along with the Sooners afterward. Pictures are snapped all around.
"After we got the official word Coach Kruger was coming and we started doing research and making phone calls, a lot of people said, 'Buckle up,'" said Charlie Taylor, OU's assistant athletic director in charge of marketing. "His first 30 days he made 30 appearances on campus as well as in the community. It quickly became the expectation, not even a second thought. It's just been spectacular."
Kruger is simply doing what has always come naturally.
At Vegas before OU, he and his wife Barbara were recognized for work with the American Cancer Society, the domestic violence shelter Safe House, Sertoma Club deaf education and the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth.
Before Vegas there was Atlanta, and the My House program that cared for babies and young children without families or homes.
Before Vegas there was Kruger's tenure as Florida coach. He was Gainesville Volunteer of the Year in 1995, and co-chair with Barbara of a local drug awareness Red Ribbon Campaign.
This kind of thing goes all the way back to Kruger's first head coaching job at Pan American University in Edinburg, Texas.
"We worked with an organization there involving kids that abused drugs, and who were at a critical stage of their lives," Kruger said. "Players kind of teamed up and worked with them in making better decisions."
Really, this kind of thing goes all the way back to Silver Lake.
"We grew up with the idea that when you think about others and you do things for others, you're doing it for the right reason," Kruger said.
The lesson intertwined with sports then. Kruger recalls a cousin moved in from North Dakota for his last two years of high school so he could have the opportunity to play football. The family didn't think twice about it.
The lesson intertwines now.
"We talk to our players all the time about that. It always has to be about others," Kruger said. "And when it is, you get good results. Whether it be on the basketball court with your teammates or in the classroom with your professors."
Or in communities around campus or town.
This year, guard James Fraschilla put together a trick shot video to raise awareness for the Hayden's Hope children's organ donation organization. Forward Romero Osby represented the team at the Big 12 Leadership Summit in Norman. Guard T.J. Franklin spent time with a class at local Jackson Elementary.
Just this week, forward Barry Honore tweeted: "It's not bout how people treat you it's about how you treat people."
Kruger's parents, both of whom have passed away, would be proud of the trickle down. They would have been proud to see their son recognized at the Final Four.
"I don't know about the recognized part," Kruger grinned. "But they'd be pleased with what we're doing."
It has been going on for a number of years at a number of coaching stops, Norman being the latest. And it has roots in time well spent playing sports, having awareness and being around family in Silver Lake.
"It was a pretty ideal environment to grow up in for sure," Kruger said. "We kind of do things the way we do them as a result of my time with Mom and Dad. At the heart of it, they were about others. That's the way they lived their lives.
"All of their children do that today."
Original Print Headline: Homegrown values remain vital staple for OU's Kruger
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
OU coach Lon Kruger shouts instructions during a game last season. Kruger has been frequently recognized for his work with charities. BRYAN TERRY/The Oklahoman