Before Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger left the UTSA Convocation Center Monday night with his 621st career victory, I knew I had to ask him about a story that I’d heard for years.
Did former UTSA athletic director Rudy Davalos really call him back in the 1980s, inquiring about whether he wanted to coach the Roadrunners?
“I think we had that conversation,” Kruger said.
As the story goes, Davalos was worried that he was about to lose Don Eddy, who was interviewing for the head coaching job at Oral Roberts in Oklahoma.
Which prompted Davalos to start looking around to see who might be available to fill the void.
He ended up calling Kruger, who was in his 30s and coaching the Pan American University Broncs in Edinburg.
Pan American is now known as UT Rio Grande Valley.
“I don’t remember the details,” Kruger said. “But as you mention that, it seems like there’s some truth to that. We had a conversation about, ‘What if?’ ”
As it turned out, Eddy did not get the Oral Roberts job.
He returned to UTSA for a fifth season, and Kruger would continue to build his program in the Valley.
By the spring of 1986, Pan American won 20 games, and after the season, Kruger got a much better opportunity.
He took over in the offseason at Kansas State, his alma mater, and ended up reeling in a pretty good recruit by the name of Steve Henson.
As Kruger’s very first recruit in Manhattan, Henson went on to star as a point guard for the Wildcats.
Now in his third year as UTSA’s coach, Henson would also play several years in the NBA.
“Steve was our first recruit,” Kruger said. “He was a fantastic player and a great leader. No surprise that he’s continued that throughout his life.”
Henson later served as an assistant under Kruger at Illinois, with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, at UNLV and at Oklahoma.
Kruger was the first college coach to lead five different programs to the NCAA tournament.
He’s coached two teams to the Final Four, including his 2016 OU team, which was aided at the time by Henson.
“He’a just had an unbelievable work ethic,” Kruger said of the UTSA coach. “He had it as an NBA player and as an assistant coach. Now he’s doing it as a head coach.”
For the record, Oklahoma beat UTSA 87-67 on Monday night in front of a rowdy crowd of 2,494.
With the victory, Kruger improved to 621-395 in his career. He is 4-3 against UTSA, including 2-3 in his four years at Pan American and now 2-0 at OU.
As for whether he would have come to UTSA if Eddy had left the program, we’ll never know.
“It just didn’t happen,” Kruger said.
Lon Kruger vs. UTSA
Legendary college basketball coach Lon Kruger is 4-3 in his career against UTSA, including 2-3 when he worked at Pan American and 2-0 at Oklahoma.
Jan. 28, 1984 – At Edinburg – UTSA def. Pan American, 68-67
Feb. 25, 1984 – At San Antonio – UTSA def. Pan American, 75-68
Jan. 19, 1985 – At San Antonio – Pan American def. UTSA, 79-70
Jan. 24, 1985 – At Edinburg – UTSA def. Pan American, 60-59
Jan. 25, 1986 – At San Antonio – Pan American def. UTSA, 84-71, OT
Dec. 4, 2017 – At Norman, Oklahoma – Oklahoma def. UTSA, 97-85
No. 12, 2018 — At San Antonio – Oklahoma def. UTSA, 87-67