Lon Kruger helps Steve Henson into his jacket during the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Alumni Center in Manhattan, Kansas on October 11, 2013. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)
February 21, 2014
By Mark Janssen
Most would say that the talents of Lon Kruger, a Wildcat from 1971-74, and Steve Henson, from 1987-90, mirrored one another as Kansas State point guards.
"We were certainly both competitive and our goal was always to have our team wins. That was always the No. 1 goal," said Henson, who today is an assistant to Kruger at the University of Oklahoma where K-State will be playing on Saturday in a 3 p.m., tipoff. "We tried to get better every day, and we tried to win every game."
Henson then reflected on a personal "competitive" story when he was in his mid-20s and Kruger pressing 40 years of age.
"I was at his house where he had a basket in his garage," said Henson. "I was in the prime of my pro career, and he said, 'Let's go out and shoot.' We played a game of follow the leader (a version of Horse) to 10. We played for three hours. I'm serious! We stopped twice. Once was because he was bleeding through his sock and once to get a drink. We weren't only competing against each other, but we were competing against ourselves."
Laughing, Henson added, "Most of the time Lon plays until he wins."
BASKETBALL... THE OTHER SPORT: You remember the greatness of Kruger and Henson on the basketball floor, but they arrived in Manhattan with hoops being somewhat their "other" sport.
Kruger arrived at K-State as a 5-foot-11, 163-pounder out of Silver Lake High School.
"No one really voiced it, but I'm sure there were whispers about this small guy, who wasn't very fast coming to K-State," said Kruger, who was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA, St. Louis Cardinals in Major League Baseball, plus received a personal tryout invitation to play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys following his collegiate career.
Out of high school he was drafted by the Houston Astros and offered a $5,000 bonus to sign. "Dad said if they really wanted me they would come back with a better offer. (Laughing) They didn't come back."
Henson was a fraction over six feet out of McPherson High School where he was "Mr. Basketball" for the state of Kansas, but as a seven-foot high jumper, 15-foot pole vaulter and national record holder in the decathlon, he said, "I was ranked higher in track than basketball. I really wasn't ranked that highly in basketball but had some pretty decent high school decathlon marks."
On choosing K-State for basketball, Henson said, "We were similar in that we were both Kansas guys, both played point guard, and both had other interests than basketball. It all matched up and became an easy decision for me."
TALE OF THE TAPE: Here's how the two K-State greats compare statistically. Remember, Kruger played just three years and Henson four, and, Kruger played before the three-point shot and before individual assist and steal records were kept.
Kruger averaged 13.3 points (1,063 points), shot 47 percent from the field, 82 percent from the free-throw line, went 5-2 against Kansas, was a two-time Big Eight Player of the Year and the Big Eight Newcomer of the Year.
Henson averaged 13.0 points (1,655), shot 44 percent from the field, a school record 90 percent from the foul line, holds the career record in assists and ranks second in steals, went 4-6 against Kansas, and was K-State's first player to play in four NCAA Tournaments.
After K-State, Kruger played professional basketball in Israel. Henson was a second-round draft choice by the Milwaukee Bucks and spent six years in the NBA.
A BIT IRONIC: Kruger came to K-State in 1970-71, which was Jack Hartman's first season. In four years, the Cats won 11, 19, 23 and 19 games, which included Big Eight titles in 1972 and 1973, and two NCAA Tournaments, plus the Commissioner's Cup postseason event.
Henson came to K-State in 1986-87, which was Kruger's first season as head coach. In four years, the Cats won 20, 25, 19 and 17 games, which included two runner-up Big Eight finishes and four NCAA Tournaments. In 1988, the Wildcats reached the Elite Eight.
Oh, one more thing: Kruger was Jack Hartman's first signee, and Henson was Kruger's first signed recruit.