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May 7, 2013

Kruger ready to rebuild starting in Europe

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TULSA -- Oklahoma men's basketball coach Lon Kruger will take the Sooners abroad this summer.

NCAA rules permit men's basketball programs to travel on a foreign tour once every four years. Foreign tours provide a team with 10 practices during its trip as well as exhibition games the team normally wouldn't have.

For a team that will have to rely on as many as seven new faces to contribute to what was one of the deepest benches in the Big 12 next season and a team with just two seniors, those 10 days will be crucial to the early development of OU's youngest players and team chemistry.


"Gonna take a trip to Brussels and Paris and Normandy," said Kruger at OU's caravan event at the Schusterman Center on the OU-Tulsa Campus. "It'll be a 10-day deal where we play four or five ball games. That'll be a good experience for them."

The Sooners return just one starter, sophomore guard Je'lon Hornbeak, from last season's NCAA tournament team.

None of OU's returners averaged double figures scoring last season. Sophomore guard Buddy Hield is Oklahoma's leading returning scorer and rebounder with 7.8 points and 4.2 boards per game.

Still, Kruger believes he has the tools to compete against the Big 12's best next season.

"Foundation now to go forward is good," Kruger said. "Young guys that played this year are returning, work awfully hard in the offseason. New guys coming in will pick it up where those guys left off. Excited about what lies ahead."

With four of Oklahoma's five starters graduating this weekend -- three of whom were All-Big 12 performers -- OU will have to ask incoming signees Edson Avila, Frank Booker, Keshaun Hamilton and Jordan Woodard to contribute right away.

"We've got a good group of new guys when you think about it in those terms," Kruger said. "I think we have a solid core of experience returning in terms of minutes played but also a good balance of new guys coming in."


There are still eight days left in the signing period, but Kruger doesn't anticipate signing any more players to this year's class.

"There's still a little bit of a pool out there, not a big one at this point for sure," Kruger said.

He still has one scholarship left but isn't in a hurry offer to anyone left in the 2013 class. He's likely turned his eye to next year's potential recruiting class with that scholarship in mind.

"We only have two seniors with Cam (Clark) and Tyler (Neal)," Kruger said. "So if we didn't use it we'd still have two going forward. Right now we've got three, and we'll have a good 2014 class out there."


With one scholarship left, a transfer prospect could make himself known to Kruger, and transfers are a Kruger specialty.

The most recent data collected by the NCAA estimates nearly 40 percent of all men's basketball players transfer schools within the first two years of their undergraduate careers.

Three of Oklahoma's starters last season were junior college or Division I transfers. Division I transfer Ryan Spangler will likely start for Kruger next season.

"Back two decades ago when a guy transferred it seemed like maybe there was baggage or a problem or there was something negative to it." Kruger said. "Today, not at all."


Providing a home to junior college and Division I transfers might be what it takes for Oklahoma to reach the NCAA tournament for consecutive years in the Kruger era.

In Year 3, Kruger knows simply earning a bid to the tournament is no longer the bar for his team to meet. Like any coach, he wants his players to believe they can do more, achieve more, in the coming years.

Still, he is not unhappy with where the program is today as opposed to the day he first took it over.

"I would imagine that if you could've said two years ago that we would've played in the NCAA tournament, we've got the group coming back that we have coming back, we probably would've taken that and been pretty excited about it," Kruger said.

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