UNLV BASKETBALL:

Former coach Lon Kruger proud of what UNLV has built

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Sam Morris

Former UNLV and current Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger watches a tournament at Rancho High in Las Vegas. Kruger says he has been keeping an eye on the progress of his former team. “We’re huge fans of what they’re doing and expect them to continue to do well.”

Mendenhall Center

A view of the new Mendenhall Center, the Runnin' Rebels' new training facility, on Jan. 17, 2012. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Rebels hit the century mark against TCU

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Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer break down the UNLV basketball team's 101-78 victory against TCU and look ahead to the Rebels' big home game Saturday against New Mexico.

The UNLV basketball team’s excellent start to the season has been gratifying for several people.

There are the players and their first-year coaching staff putting in countless hours of practice and preparation. There are the students, who have a team to brag about, and the fans in the community, who have been waiting for their sleeping giant to awaken.

Then, there's the coach responsible for putting the bulk of this team together. UNLV has a 17-3 record, is ranked No. 14 by the Associated Press and earlier in the season upset the nation's top-ranked team.

“It’s been fantastic,” ex-UNLV coach Lon Kruger said Wednesday from his office at the University of Oklahoma. “We’ve been watching whenever we can and keeping a close eye. Just really, really happy for the guys, coach (Dave) Rice and the staff. Everyone’s doing a great job and they’re fun to watch.

“They’re a great group of workers and Mike Moser’s energy has added a lot.”

Kruger left for the Sooners in the offseason after guiding the Rebels for seven seasons. His fingerprints are all over the roster, and his legacy continues today with the grand opening of the Mendenhall Center, a state-of-the-art practice facility that Kruger helped usher into reality.

The meetings started years ago. Kruger said they may not have made it past that point without Brad Rothermel, UNLV’s special adviser to the athletic director, and Maury Gallagher, the chairman and CEO of Allegiant Travel Company and member of a group of donors looking to help the program.

“Brad and Maury are the real catalysts for getting it off the ground and getting it going, because they both had a vision, they both understood the significance of it, you know, how much the program could benefit from it,” Kruger said. “Those two guys are deserving of the credit for getting it off the ground and then really keeping it going.”

Kruger also gave credit to former Rebels director of basketball operations Mike Shepherd, who now holds the same position on Kruger’s staff at Oklahoma.

“We had a vision for how the program could best benefit, from the training room and weight room to the two courts side-by-side and the reception area all connected right there to the Thomas & Mack,” Kruger said. “He was in all those meetings day-to-day and had that same vision for it.”

Kruger will be back in Las Vegas in late May for the Coaches vs. Cancer event at the Bellagio. If UNLV’s Rice has any questions about his duties for the event, Kruger will be more than willing to help.

“I talk to coach Rice on a regular basis,” Kruger said. “He’s been very, very kind.”

Even without the event in May, Kruger has plenty of reasons to swing through town. His daughter, Angie, lives here with her husband, and his son, former UNLV guard Kevin, lives here during the NBA offseason.

Plus, there are all of the people he met in the community during his tenure, when he led the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament in four of his final five seasons — highlighted by the 2007 Sweet 16.

“A lot of good relationships and nothing but great memories … Barbara and I love Las Vegas,” Kruger said. “The fans are great, it’s a terrific place to live and we still feel very close to Las Vegas and the program, even though we’re a few months removed. We’re huge fans of what they’re doing and expect them to continue to do well.

“They’ve got a great thing going there.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Lon Kruger resuscitated this program and made Rebel basketball exciting again. Getting the Mendenhall Center is HUGE for recruiting, and is already paying off big time. Hats off to Lon, and I wish him nothing but the best at Oklahoma. Certainly there are no hard feelings about Lon leaving. You can't blame the guy for leaving for 3mil/year.

  2. Perfectly said, RunThisTown. Several die-hards feel the same way.

  3. Kruger deserves a ton of credit for putting UNLV basketball back on the map. He's a great coach, and everwhere he has been, has had a winning program. Even now I look at the Oklahoma team from time to time, and see how they are doing because of Kruger. They had a big win against Kansas state last week, and I think he';s bringing Oklahoma into a contender now too. Thanks coach for all you have done!

  4. He left UNLV too early and lost his fate to enjoy the new arena. Which says that his ability to stick to it isn't his best attribute.

  5. When a successful coach can leave a program mid-contract and go to a "bigger" school and no one at the old school feels bad about it then the dude did something right. When you take a look at the stability he added, the talent left behind and the new practice facility ya gotta take your hat off to the guy.

    I'll never be a Sooner fan but like Wade I do take a look at OK games now and then just to see how Krug is doing. One thing I noticed is he's always wearing glasses these days which makes him look a bit older...

  6. Of course he says he's proud. UNLV is a better team than Oklahoma and he can't just wish the Rebels bad luck now, can he?

  7. Kruger did alot of good work here. On the court he made us consistently legit, got us consistently back into the tourney, brought in quality transfer talent, and basically reestablished Rebel hoops as a regional power. Off the court he re energized the fan base, built the Mendenhall Center, and was full blown involved in the community. Perhaps his biggest achievement, however, was his being the bridge between the University and The Past. His support in celebrating Tark & the former players, and their accomplishments, bringing them all back into the fold, was the unifying vision that helped heal a 15yr civil war. His getting the Admin to embrace the tradition of the program made possible the hiring of Rice and the candidacy of Theus. Kruger was the leading advocate towards making Tark the icon that he is.....and not the elephant in the room that those in the ivory towers alwasy thought he was. Kruger was a fantastic Rebel and we will reap the rewards of his work for a long time.

  8. djonian81 & RunThisTown make some fantastic points. While I couldn't be happier about Rice, I'll always be thankful for Kruger's influence on the program.

  9. Coach K will always bring good thoughts from me. He is the ultimate professional and a great man. I wish him the best and am truly thankful for his time at UNLV.