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
I recall this run. It was fantastically exciting. Being in the center of the Tarheel state, I would have loved for my Gators to have beaten Dook that year. We got revenge a few years later. As a fan, I felt jaded when Lon Kruger left. I thought he was a great coach. It worked out for us of course (very well) but at the time I felt it was a dagger in the back. Illinois? Sheesh.
That was a very fun team to watch, from talent to chemistry. I met Coach Kruger at a Gator football game by accidentally sitting in his seat when he had gone to the concession stand. Very nice, shook hands, all smiles. I was disappointed, too, when he left.
Agree that was such a fun team. Hardly seemed real at the time that UF could make a final four. Coach Kruger was/is a good coach and nice guy. I also met him once while at a hotel in College Station when the team was in town to play TAMU the season prior to the final four run. He was a little surprised but pleased to run into a Gators fan and talked with me for a while. Really good guy. Like David posted, hated that he left at the time but worked out well.
That Duke game….the charge call on Dan Cross where supposedly Antonio Lang was stationary is one of the worst calls in history. As a matter of fact, it rarely even gets a replay even on nostalgic telecasts on Grant Hill for example. I lost it, and never forgot it. That said, LOVED this team…Da Meat Hook, Dimitri Hill, Cross, Craig Brown, Andrew DeClerq. When we beat a stacked UConn team with Donyell Marshall…incredible!!
Yes that call cost UF against Puke in ‘94, just like a bad call cost them against Cereal Excuse (Howard Triche was their player; a late game four point turnaround) in the ‘’86 sweet sixteen
”Florida, with Kruger in his fourth season as coach, was headed to the program’s first Final Four.” -Gatorsports.com.
In Billy D’s 4th year at Florida, he took Florida Men’s Basketball to its 2nd Final Four appearance.
Just saying… to all the ”I told you Mike White can coach” crowd, because Florida squeaked into the NCAA Tourney this season. ”It is what it is!” But just maybe Coach Mike White goes to the Final Four in his 4th year as H.C. at Florida (which is THIS YEAR). And for the record (and as of today), I do believe Mike White is the right Head Coach for Florida’s Men’s Basketball program long term. Go Gators!
One thing few mention is that Donovan did not have anyone in the hopper recruiting wise other than the kid who decommitted the day after Donovan left and is now at Notre Dame… which is why there is a gap in talent due to the 2016 recruiting class of Hector, Bassett and Gak.
White will be fine, I just think he is a year behind the “four year rule” that you mention. This should be the last season where we “squeak in” with all of the talent Coach White has brought in last year and this year.