Going home is supposed to give those comfort. A home is a place where people are able to go and feel relieved.
Lon Kruger grew up in the small town of Silver Lake, Kansas. The drive from Silver Lake to Manhattan, Kansas is less than an hour, and Kruger made that trip in 1970.
After lettering in football, basketball, and baseball in high school, Oklahoma’s head basketball coach moved on to Kansas State to play basketball and baseball. Kruger went on to be the focal point of Kansas State’s early run under coach Jack Hartman. The Wildcats won back-to-back Big Eight championships in 1972 and 1973, with Kruger being the Sophomore of the Year in the Big Eight in 1972, and the conference’s player of the year in 1973.
Kruger’s coaching career even consisted of a stint back at Kansas State in the late 80’s, where he led the Wildcats to NCAA Tournament bids all of his four years. His jersey from his playing days was then retired in Bramlage Coliseum in 2006.
Safe to say that Manhattan is a home for the now Oklahoma head basketball coach. Instead, Kruger’s time back to Manhattan as a Sooner has not followed the same path. It started off as planned in 2012 as his team went on to upset the–then–No. 20 Kansas State Wildcats. Since? 0-and-5, including an upset of Kruger’s No. 1 ranked Oklahoma team during Buddy Hield’s senior season.
“(It’s) always a great atmosphere. They got a lot in pride in what they are doing,” Kruger said about the difficulty of playing his alma mater. “Bruce (Weber) does a great job. They guard you like crazy–are disruptive with what they do–and you got to be tough enough to work through that”.
Despite the outcomes of the games, a home is always a home. For Kruger, even with his playing days outdating some of his players’ memory, going back to the “Little Apple” is still fun.
“It’s great to see people that have been there a long time,” He said. “Other than that, the players don’t realize anything about it. So they are not effected by it…so it doesn’t matter at all. But it is fun to go back and see people that are great folks and great Wildcats.”
The Sooners come into tonight’s game against Kansas State inside the Associated Press’ Top 5 for the first time since Buddy Hield’s senior season in 2015-2016*. A target has been firmly put on the backs of Oklahoma, and in the Big 12, a chance at being humbled can happen every single night.
“Every game is important. Every time you can get one in the right column you don’t have to play it again,” Kruger said. “The flip side of that, of course, is if you let one slide, you don’t get that opportunity again. That’s the value of each possession and each opportunity, and realizing how tough the league is.”
After Kansas’ win in Morgantown last night, a win against Kansas State (12-5, 2-3) would give No. 4 Oklahoma (14-2, 3-1) a share at the top of the Big 12. The Sooners come into tonight’s game with their highest rank since 2016, and are looking to give Lon Kruger a much needed feeling of being back home again after losing five straight at the Octagon of Doom.
*Oklahoma was last ranked in the Top 5 the week of Feb. 22 to Feb. 28 in 2016. They lost to Texas that Saturday, and never moved back into the Top 5.