Oklahoma's head coach and former K-State head coach Lon Kruger, talks with Steven Pledger during a timeout against K-State at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kansas on January 28, 2012. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)
January 14, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
For Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger, being back at his alma mater is always special.
Despite the fact that these days Kruger is on the opposite end of the court coaching against K-State, there's something about being home - the familiarity of Manhattan - that he loves.
"I (enjoy going back) very much, not the games, necessarily," Kruger laughed, "but seeing all the people and all the fans. All the folks I get a chance to see, it's just great."
Tonight Kruger will get to see all those fans he loves so well as he and his 25th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners are set to tip-off against K-State men's basketball at 6 p.m. in Bramlage Coliseum.
A 1975 K-State graduate, Kruger made a name for himself at K-State as a dual athlete playing both basketball and baseball for the Wildcats.
On the basketball court, Kruger helped lead his team to back-to-back Big Eight championships in 1972 and 1973. He averaged 17.6 points per game his senior season and his 1,063-career points rank in the top 20 of K-State history. He was also twice selected as the Big Eight Player of the Year.
"Winning the Big Eight championship our sophomore year is (a favorite memory)," said Kruger. "It was the last game of the year, it came down to us playing at Missouri on the road and in that environment. The feeling in the locker room in that championship winning game, that's hard to replicate."
He earned K-State's Porky Morgan Most Inspirational Player award three times in his K-State career for his display of Wildcat pride, and, though after graduation he spent one season as a graduate assistant at Pittsburg State, he was quickly back in Manhattan.
Kruger spent one year as a graduate assistant for the Wildcats before joining the coaching staff as an assistant coach from 1979-1982. After spending four years as the Pan American head coach, he returned to Manhattan from 1986-90, this time as the team's head coach.
Kruger's record as coach at K-State was 81-46, and the Wildcats made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament each of his four years, including an appearance in the Elite Eight in 1988. He is the only Wildcat coach to lead the team to four consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.
However, Kruger's love for K-State didn't begin when he sported purple jerseys as a student-athlete; no, it started long before that.
A native of Silver Lake, Kan., Kruger and his brothers grew up cheering for K-State.
"Growing up just 45 miles down the road, Max Moss, Sammie Robinson, those guys, they were my idols as a youngster, and Tex Winter, those folks - just great memories."
A true Kansan born and bred, in 2006 Kruger was inducted into the Topeka and Shawnee County Sports Hall of Fame after a successful high school career where he lettered four years in football, basketball and baseball.
Also in 2006, K-State honored Kruger by retiring his No. 12 jersey (Kruger was inducted into the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003).
His legacy in the state of Kansas is a great one, and though he has been coaching against his old team since taking over at Oklahoma in 2011 some things just never change.
"I always cheer for K-State, except when we're playing them," Kruger said with a smile. "It's easy, it's kind of in your blood. Once you play there and you go there, well unless K-State is playing the Sooners, we always cheer for K-State."
Kruger's Oklahoma Sooners come in to Manhattan tonight 13-3 (2-1 Big 12) and are fresh off of a win over then-undefeated Iowa State. Oklahoma has five players averaging double figures in points and is led by senior Cameron Clark, who is averaging a Big 12-leading 18.3 points per game.
K-State, coming off of a tough loss at Kansas that snapped the Wildcats' 10-game winning streak, will return home with a vengeance tonight ready to defend its home court.
"You just regroup and go at it," K-State head coach Bruce Weber said. "We've talked all along about how tough the Big 12 would be, so you're jut going to have to, every game, get ready to play. The team that has that mental compass for this long journey and that continues to get up for games whether it's at home or on the road, they're going to come out on top."
Tonight's game, at 6 p.m. CT in Bramlage Coliseum, will be aired nationally on ESPN2.
For more on the upcoming matchup, click here.
We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Kelly McHugh, Mark Janssen or K-State Assistant AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.