Notebook: Kruger, former UF players in attendance
Published: Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 9:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 9:22 p.m.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Sitting courtside at AT&T Stadium, former Florida men's basketball coach Lon Kruger took in memories from leading the Gators to their first Final Four appearance in school history.
“It seems like a long time ago,” Kruger said.
Kruger is the only coach other than Billy Donovan to take UF to a Final Four, leading the third-seeded Gators to an improbable upset of Connecticut in the Sweet 16 before falling to Grant Hill-led Duke in the 1994 NCAA tournament semifinals.
Kruger, now the head coach at Oklahoma, said he sees similarities between this season's Gator basketball team and the one he helped guide to the Final Four 20 years ago.
“Both were veteran groups that were committed to defense,” Kruger said. “They respected each other and accepted their roles.”
Kruger left Florida to take the head coaching job at Illinois in 1996, which paved the way for the hiring of Donovan, who has led UF to four Final Fours in 18 seasons.
“What he's done the last 18 years really hasn't been matched by many coaches,” Kruger said. “He's set himself apart in a lot of ways.”
Kruger said he still keeps in touch with some of his 1994 players, including Craig Brown, Dametri Hill and Dan Cross.
“It was a special group,” Kruger said.
Former Gators show support
Florida's first Final Four appearance since 2007 brought support from former notable Gator basketball players.
Current Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons was in attendance, with teammate Dwight Howard. Former Gator point guard Nick Calathes (Memphis Grizzlies) also was in attendance, along with former UF center Udonis Haslem (Miami Heat), former UF forward Matt Bonner (San Antonio Spurs) and retired NBA point guard Jason Williams.
One member of Florida's last Final Four team in 2007 attended the game — center and star sixth man Chris Richard.
In addition, a number of former Gators appeared in a video online wishing UF good luck on Saturday night — a list that included Erik Murphy, Bradley Beal and Joakim Noah.
Special guest for Ollie
UConn coach Kevin Ollie also had a special guest for his first Final Four appearance — his mother, Dorothy, who is battling stage 2 breast cancer.
Dorothy Ollie underwent surgery March 24, but was cleared to travel earlier this week.
“She lives in Plano here and to come back home before her next surgery has just been a wonderful thing,” Ollie said. “It's going to be great to see her. She wanted to come to Madison Square Garden (where UConn played the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight), but I was like, 'No, save up your energy for the Final Four.' ”
ESPN veteran basketball analyst and Lakewood Ranch resident Dick Vitale called the game courtside for ESPN international. … Making its fifth Final Four appearance in school history, Florida came into the UConn game 5-2 in its previous four Final Four appearances. … Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was instrumental in building AT&T Stadium, was booed when he was shown on the jumbotron from his luxury box. … Florida's 22 points in the first half against UConn was its lowest first-half scoring output of the season. The previous low was 23 points against Fresno State on Dec. 21 at the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise. … Florida filled a number of sections in AT&T Stadium, but still only had the third most fanbase in the building, behind Wisconsin and Kentucky.