The room goes quiet as the video rewinds again and again. The Oklahoma assistant coaches Steve Henson, Lew Hill and Chris Crutchfield, maybe a graduate assistant or two or even the players: Anyone who is in the room waits.
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is re-watching a play.
Henson can just tell an idea is whipping through the head coach’s mind. Hill knows that Kruger isn’t just watching one play. He’s simulating the next two or three plays in his head based on a small detail he spots, one that most people might miss. A foot in the wrong place, a guard going over a screen a certain way, an open spot on the floor: It’s something, and Kruger has seen it.
This isn’t a rare occurrence.
This is what it’s like every day in the Oklahoma film room.
“We like to think we know a little bit of basketball,” Hill said with a laugh.
“He’s kind of a master with that,” Henson said.
The art of self-scouting: It’s something every coach around the country does, but Henson can’t think of anyone who does it more than Kruger, who spent most of his off-time in Hawaii watching film. Hill said Kruger can spot something in the moment and devise a counter to it almost immediately.
It’s not about numbers and stats for Kruger. It’s about a feeling, a hunch and what he sees with his own eyes.
An experienced Oklahoma roster was bound to have success early, but it’s a combination of that talent and Kruger’s ability to get the most out of his players this non-conference season that has the Sooners unbeaten, ranked third in the nation and preparing to open Big 12 Conference play unbeaten for the first time since the 1989-90 season.
Kruger moved Isaiah Cousins to the point and Jordan Woodard to the wing – the right decision. Oklahoma has gone away from a post-up offense to more of a pick-and-pop style – the right decision. Oklahoma no longer presses as deep in the full court and has become one of the nation's top field goal defenses.
The Sooners have gone on big runs to start games and coming out of halftime. It’s not some glorious and inspirational speech that Kruger gives. It comes from the small adjustments he has made – in practice and in games.
“He studies our guys like crazy,” Henson said. “He’s creative. He just takes every group and searches for ways to make each group successful. It’s not a deal where he has a system where we’re going to plug guys in every year. He studies our guys and tries to figure out what’s going to work best for this group.
“He loves it. He’s passionate about it.”
After just about every practice, Kruger takes a copy of the workout home. He marks clips and comes back the next morning ready to show the team what he hs found. Henson said he can’t imagine any other coach watching as much film as his former coach and current boss.
Sometimes, Kruger puts the tweaks in and doesn’t like them. He throws them away. Sometimes, they stick – even if it’s just a small wrinkle in one play.
Right now, Oklahoma is trying to figure out how to fix the lulls in the offense that caused the Sooners (11-0) to lose big leads during the Diamond Head Classic. That’s the emphasis.
“Each of our teams have adjusted differently,” Hill said. “. . . What our talent is, he adjusts.”
And Kruger watches film with each of his players differently. He’s a little harder on veterans like Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield – demanding more – than he is on the freshmen. He has to find different buttons to push with different players, and so far this season, he seems to be finding all of the right ones.
“We’re kind of doing the same things, but the things we don’t do as well, he’s pushing it out there and making sure that we keep it fresh in our minds,” Spangler said. “That way we get better every day.”
That’s at the core of what Kruger has always tried to do.
Henson said the Sooners’ head coach doesn’t get caught up in statistics or even wins and losses. Oklahoma uses very few new-age metrics or in-depth stats to determine success.
Oklahoma’s measure of success comes down to Kruger’s primary objective: Getting better every day.
It starts in the film room, where Henson said Kruger has a way of asking the assistants questions to which he already knows the answers.
One morning earlier this week, the coaching staff was watching film of Iowa State, who the Sooners open Big 12 play against Saturday. Kruger paused the recording and stood quiet for a minute. Henson tells the new graduate assistants who come in every year or two to just sit down and watch Kruger watch film.
What happens if we send Buddy here or Ryan over here? Henson can’t hear Kruger, but he knows the questions that are running through Kruger’s mind. The idea usually gets implemented in the following practice.
If Kruger likes it, it stays. If not, he just scratches it out.
Either way, it’s back to the film room, where preparation and analysis is far more an art than a science for Kruger.
“It’s pretty simple,” Henson said. “. . . For the most part, coach is going to trust his eyes and trust what the film tells him.”