By Joe Mussatto, GateHouse Oklahoma
NORMAN, Okla. — Twenty-five years ago, a young Lon Kruger cut down the nets in Miami after his Florida Gators beat Boston College in the East Regional finals.
Florida, with Kruger in his fourth season as coach, was headed to the program’s first Final Four.
That Gator squad was led by guards Craig Brown and Dan Cross and big men Andrew DeClercq and Dametri Hill. Florida fell to Duke in the national semifinal.
Kruger will coach in his 19th NCAA Tournament when OU tips off against Ole Miss on Friday in Columbia, South Carolina.
Q: What stands out most when you remember that 1994 Florida season?
A: “The fact that it had never been done before at Florida, and the excitement in the fan base and the satisfaction on the players’ faces. To win the Elite Eight game in Miami, we had a great fan base.They were all right there in the home state. The timing for that was good. That team took care of responsibilities and trusted each other and played consistently good basketball.”
Q: Are you still in contact with any of your former players?
A: “Yeah, from time to time. Different players reach out. I see them on the road occasionally at different games. And we played Florida this year. A couple of them were in The Bahamas.”
Q: That run almost never started after barely beating James Madison in the first round. What do you remember about that game?
A: “That’s exactly accurate. A lot of times, the teams that go to the Final Four dodge a bullet somewhere along the way. And that was certainly our game. I think it was tied with under a minute to go. A freshman guard made a three out of the corner that created a little margin. Otherwise it would’ve been over after one game.”
Q: How has your job as a coach changed since then?
A: “In a lot of ways it’s changed in a huge amount with all the social media and all the exposure now. Players, I think, are playing more basketball. It still comes down to working on each guy, development, spacing the floor, getting people into position where they can be effective. I guess that really hasn’t changed much.”
Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball.
What: NCAA West Regional First Round
Who: Florida (19-15) vs. Nevada (29-4)
When: 6:50 p.m. Thursday
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa