Lon Kruger will coach the first game of his career in McCasland Field House this evening at 7 p.m., but it won't be the first time he's contested an opponent there. The Oklahoma men's basketball coach played two games inside the 84-year-old gym as a guard at Kansas State.
In 1972, he led the Wildcats to an 80-71 win against Jack MacLeod's Sooners, scoring 18 points and accounting for nine boards.
40 years later, Oklahoma hosts Division II Central Oklahoma in the first game of the Field House Series.
The Sooners' final exhibition game is the first in the series. OU will play its next opponent in the series, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Dec. 31, and the Sooners certainly hope fans make it as tough a place to play as Kruger remembers it being.
"A lot of the arenas back in that day were like that in terms of smaller and more cozy, I guess, if you will," he said. "But not necessarily for the visiting teams."
Former Sooner great Alvan Adams might have had something to do with that. He is one of a handful of field house era OU players who will be honored at the game.
Adams notched a school record 57 double-doubles in 73 games at Oklahoma, and grabbed a school record 28 rebounds against Indiana State in 1972. Kruger would like his team to crash the boards the way Adams did, but the Sooners might lack the size to outrebound teams in a lot of games this season.
"I think we'll be an OK rebounding team, but that's an area we really gotta work and then cut our losses a little bit because we're not real big team," he said.
However, Kruger does think his team needs to become a little tougher, a little grittier when attacking the boards.
"We definitely have to be more physical as a group, and that's part of it," he said. "Be more conscious when a shot goes up, and be more aggressive and go get it."
Being more aggressive on the glass begins in the low post.
Senior forwards Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald, alongside junior forward Amath M'Baye, will have to do the bulk of the board snatching if the Sooners are going to compete come January.
"In the Big 12, if you give second shots, it's pretty much a bucket," said Osby, the Big 12's leading returning rebounder. "We want to win every possession, and in order to win every possession, you've got to rebound."
Osby is going to receive more help from a leaner Fitzgerald this season who said he's down to around 230 pounds this season. Fitzgerald averaged just 5.0 rebounds per game in 28 minutes on the floor last year.
"Fitz has worked really hard to use a lot of his strength and dropped a lot of his weight," Osby said. "I think we'll be better for it."
Fitzgerald believes the Sooners will be able to rebound against bigger, longer teams when the time comes because he, Osby and M'Baye know how to body up in the paint.
"I think me and Ro and Amath are really good at using our bodies to create space," Fitzgerald said. "I think that's going to be one of our strong points when we play against bigger teams."
Tickets for tonight's Field House Series are still available for just $5 to the general public and free to OU students.