AP FILE PHOTO
Tuesday, April 13, 2010 | 2:15 a.m.
For Kevin Kruger, his third year out of college and in the world of professional basketball took him from Orlando to Italy, then back to Las Vegas for a brief, unplanned hiatus and finally off to Utah.
He'll drive back to Las Vegas from Provo on Tuesday and begin the process of recharging in order to get at it again in a couple of months.
Yes, for the 26-year-old son of UNLV coach Lon Kruger, that's just fine.
"It's really not so much about waking up every day and saying that I have to be in the NBA — NBA or bust," he said. "I mean, my friends have 9-to-5 jobs, and they hate them. I enjoy playing basketball, I can make a good amount of money doing it. I don't see why I need to rush into the next chapter yet."
There's especially no reason to move on after overcoming a hefty amount of adversity this winter, only to finish with an even larger supply of momentum.
After a bust of a trip to play pro ball in Bulgaria a year ago, Kruger signed this season with Martos Napoli in Naples, Italy.
The signing came on the heels of a strong showing with the NBA's Orlando Summer League. The team, however, which competed in the Italian League's top division, folded just before Christmas.
Kruger already had worn thin on the experience, though, as the team's owner attempted to push him aside and sign Travis Best by promising the long-time NBA veteran what essentially was money he didn't have.
From there, it became a chess match between the franchise and Kruger's camp.
While Kruger fought to get money that was owed to him along with a release from his contract so he could come back and play in the United States, the overseas owner didn't budge, turning a process that easily could have been settled in a few days into an almost two-month-long ordeal.
During that break of sorts, Kruger would show up at the Thomas & Mack Center to watch his alma mater practice, then work out on his own after the current Rebels were done on the floor.
While he sat on the side, not being able to play in the NBA Developmental League hurt his chances of catching on with someone in the NBA on a possible 10-day contract, which can sometimes be parlayed into a contract to finish out the regular season.
Waiting along with Kruger for the release to come through were the D-League's Utah Flash.
The Flash — who serve as an affiliate for the Utah Jazz and Atlanta Hawks — had Kruger on their roster the previous two seasons, and he came along this year just in time.
"It was nice to come back here — they welcomed me back, and we had fun while I was here," said Kruger, who added that he would have gladly stayed in Naples all season if the situation had worked out better. "When I got here we were just out of the playoffs, we kind of clicked at the right time, made a push and made it back to the playoffs. We won some games and had a good time doing it."
The 6-foot-2 guard would end up averaging 18 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 19 regular season games with the Flash, helping his team into the playoffs, where Sunday they lost in Game 3 of a best-of-three series to the Iowa Energy.
Along the way, he showed the skills that someday could help land him on an NBA roster.
Inside of those numbers, he maintained a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, shot 45.5 percent (56-of-123) from 3-point range and an impressive 91.8 percent (90-of-98) from the free-throw line.
While another week or two of games would have been nice, Kruger hardly sees it as an end.
It's been three years since Kruger, in his lone season at UNLV after transferring from Arizona State, led the Rebels to the Sweet Sixteen, capping a 2006-07 campaign that put the program back on the national radar.
Instead of moving on, he said he has three or four good years of basketball left in him before he considers what's next.
Certainly, given his three successful stints in both the NBA Summer League and the NBDL, he'll get another summer league/training camp invite from one of the league's 30 organizations.
He also said that a third trip across the pond is not out of the question, as long as the situation is right.
"I think they all know my name," he said of the NBA's scouts and executives. "That's kind of what it's all about, getting an opportunity. Maybe I'll have a little more leeway than I ever did, since they've seen me play the last two years when I've felt like I had pretty good years. It might allow me an extra opportunity I wouldn't have had before."
Kruger said that playing in the summer league also is something he'll have to discuss with his agent, given where things stand when late June and early July roll around. He said he'd love a chance to potentially play in the Vegas Summer League.
One way or another, he'll still be putting on a uniform next season.
The rest of the "real world" can wait.
"It's fun going here, going there, I've gotten to see some interesting parts of the world, so it's kind of a 'you never know what's going to happen tomorrow' mentality since I left UNLV, but it is what it is and that's the life I chose," Kruger said. "Everybody wishes they'd played longer when they stopped. I'm not going to let a little discouragement or adversity lead me to something else.
"I work hard to get (to the NBA) and I'd love to get there, but I wouldn't consider my career a failure if I didn't."