When Lon Kruger came to Oklahoma, he helped re-ignite the Sooners. The result has been three-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament after Oklahoma had back-to-back losing seasons before Kruger took over prior to the 2011-12 season.
He’s become the first coach in NCAA history to leads five different teams to the NCAA Tournament. Four made it to the Sweet 16, another NCAA Division I record.
But he hasn’t done it alone.
Kruger brought assistant Lew Hill and Steven Henson to Oklahoma with him from UNLV. Oklahoma added former Oral Roberts assistant Chris Crutchfield. The quartet has been at the head of the Sooners’ resurgence.
Kruger is a household name for all Oklahoma fans, but Sooners Illustrated caught up with his three assistants to find out a little more about them.
What have you found most rewarding during your coaching career?
When I first really, really got to experience a guy coming in as a freshman and leaving as a senior and just watching him grow up on and off the court. You see those guys come in and they’re all excited, hungry and young. That’s the most rewarding part. People ask what I like better: College or pro. They both have they’re great advantages but the development of people – especially when they come for four years – that’s the most rewarding part for sure.
You came to Oklahoma with Kruger, but what stood out to you about coaching the Sooners?
There were so many factors. For some of us, it was a matter of coming back to our roots – coming back close to home. That was exciting: Similar value systems between Oklahoma and Kansas, where we grew up. That part was exciting. Playing against Oklahoma in college and watching them as a kid growing up. Most of the people in my hometown were either Oklahoma or Nebraska football fans. It was always around us. There was always a certain special quality to Oklahoma. You always kind of looked at them in a real elite light. Playing against them, they had real elite teams and elite players. It was pretty special. I take a lot of pride in putting on an OU shirt and going to work every day.
You played at Kansas State and grew up in McPherson, Ks.. Is being back home what you like most about your time at OU thus far?
For sure. Getting back to this part of the country, this conference, that part is all great. Getting to recruit in areas where we know a lot of people. Those are special things for sure. Playing in the Big 12 is certainly something that drew us to the job.
What do you like to do away from the court?
My family likes to travel. We’re not a lot closer to the beach here than we were at UNLV. When we were at Vegas, we would always in May or August get over to the beach in San Diego or anywhere in California. We’d try to get over there for a couple days. When we were (at Vegas), we’d go up into Utah and go camping. It’s one of those things that we did often, but we really enjoyed doing it. We still like to travel when we can. I like to golf and spend time with family.
Do you have a favorite trip?
My family went to Seaside, Florida, years ago when my boys were young. They went without me. It must have been during training camp or something when I wasn’t available. They just loved it and talked about it for years and years and years. Finally last year, we went back. They think that’s probably the best place we can go. In fact, we are going to go back again this August. I really enjoyed it too.
What makes coach Kruger unique compared to all the other coaches you’ve been around?
It’s always kind of comical to me whenever we add a new assistant or a new GA – someone who comes in hungry and wants to learn. They always start out with great intentions, and they’re going to diagram every play that we run. They’re going to keep a playbook. That’s great. That’s what you should do. But you just can’t do that with our system. It’s just constantly evolving. I just kind of chuckle when our GAs will come in the first day and ask me after practice what we ran that day. . . . That’ll last a few weeks. Our stuff changes constantly. We’ll joke amongst assistants that if we go on a three-day recruiting trip and walk down to practice like, ‘Uh, when did we put that in? What are we running today?’ That’s part of him. That’s one of the things (Kruger) enjoys. I think it’s one of the reasons that makes him special as far as Xs and Os. He’s constantly tweaking it.
If you could give out superlatives to the guys, who would get what and why?
For Buddy, it’s just his personality. He walks in every day and is just Mr. Up-Beat. . . . Isaiah is kind of that way too. It’s really been fun watching him grow. He’s become more of a leader with our guys. . . . Spangler fashions himself and people envision him as a real tough guy.
What would your superlative be?
I don’t know. I think guys know that I’m going to work extremely hard, and I know the game. That’s what I’d hope that they’d say: That I care about them and I work really hard. I take a lot of pride in my scouting reports: The Xs and Os part.
Football can kind of break recruiting up by position, but how do the three assistant coaches do it for basketball? Is it by region? Is it by position?
We don’t get real specific with that. Texas is a huge area for us, and both of the other guys have strong connections down there that just in general. Lew is going to spend a lot of time in the Houston area. Crutch is going to spend a lot of time in Dallas. From there, we just try to get the right kids. I don’t recruit as many guys as they do. They’re really good at it. It’s hard to stay after a bunch of guys. They do a good job of that. I’ll recruit Kansas City and the JuCos and still have the Florida connections. I try to be selective with it.
What’s one thing that fans don’t know about you that you think they should know?
I’m kind of a boring guy I guess. I really don’t know. One thing – that’s really not answering your question – that’s kind of interesting is that people who aren’t really familiar with how it works, they kind of think that we’re off for the summer. The season is over and what are you going to do for the next five or six months. It never ends. The recruiting part never ends. There are days when we can’t be out. We’re not on the road a ton. We’re not on the road as much as people think we are. It kind of come sin waves. Early September, we hit it hard. Three weeks in July, we hit it hard. Other times, it’s just kind of continuous. I think that’s the thing about the job that people don’t know: Just how many hours we spend doing things that aren’t basketball related.