The name on the door of new Oklahoma assistant coach Kevin Kruger’s office still isn’t his. He hasn’t been in Norman long enough, yet, to have the name replaced. But the name on the door – one of a former assistant coach that had been with Sooners’ head coach Lon Kruger for almost three decades – doesn’t give Kevin Kruger pause or stress.
It brings him a comfort, a familiarity.
Sitting in Steve Henson’s old office doesn’t put more pressure Kevin Kruger, who always considered Henson and Mike Shepard to be like older brothers or younger uncles – having grown up with the two of them since he was just three years old.
That feeling of family: The one that took Kevin Kruger to UNLV as a graduate transfer and then to Oklahoma as a graduate assistant after a six-year overseas playing career is the same one that brought him back to Oklahoma for his first major conference assistant coaching job.
The culture that Lon Kruger put in place at Oklahoma is one that has been a part of Kevin Kruger’s entire life. In his first year with the Sooners, he just wants to continue that ideal.
“You’re going to do everything you can to treat people the right way,” Kevin Kruger said. “You’re going to do everything you can to help each other out. That’s just an attractive culture to be a part of.
“. . . You know that every person cares about you more than they do themselves, you just kind of hope to reciprocate that feeling. It’s just special to be a part of.”
When Oklahoma senior guard Jordan Woodard first committed to Oklahoma and came to Norman as a senior at Edmond Memorial and during the summer before his first season, Kevin Kruger was still playing – just beginning his career as a graduate assistant. Woodard is the only player left from Kevin Kruger’s first stint with Oklahoma. The two have talked about Woodard’s older brother, James, and his quest to play professional basketball.
Being a player is still fresh in Kevin Kruger’s mind. Even though he’s been out of college for almost a decade, he hopes that will help him relate to the younger players – being that older brother or younger uncle to the Sooners and also a coach. But he’s been seasoned too, having been involved in the daily planning process at Northern Arizona, where he had his hands in game prep and outcomes for the first time.
“I’m not just hearing stories or being in the discussion of what’s happening, but actually being in the tick of it every day and having responsibility that directly affected the team,” he said.
Lon Kruger spent a lot of time hitting grounders to his son in the backyard when Kevin was just a boy. Baseball – not basketball – was Kevin Kruger’s first love and the sport that Lon Kruger likely saw his son have the most fun and the most success.
After basketball practices, Lon Kruger was usually very casual.
He became – as Kevin Kruger called it – much “more coachy” after baseball practices and games. Even when Kevin Kruger started at point guard for his dad for a year at UNLV and the Runnin’ Rebels made a run to the Sweet 16, turnovers in the backcourt never turned into tension at the dinner table.
Barbara Kruger never would have allowed it.
Instead, the casual feeling around basketball remained and still does.
“He allows a lot of freedom and just kind of trusts that we are going to do what we’re supposed to do,” Kevin Kruger said of his father and boss. “But he has no problem, if he wants you to do something, he’ll tell you to do it. There’s not a lot of room for confusion. I plan on it going the way that life has gone.”