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April 24, 2015

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

ray brewer:

Kruger leaving for Oklahoma isn’t all that bad

Lon Kruger at UNLV

UNLV coach Lon Kruger waves to fans after cutting down the net following UNLV's 78-70 win over BYU in the Mountain West Conference championship game Saturday, March 10, 2007. Launch slideshow »

KSNV: Lon Kruger Leaving UNLV?

Ryan Greene discusses the potential departure of Lon Kruger as the UNLV Men's Basketball coach.

This is the opportunity the UNLV basketball program needed.

The Rebels couldn’t have accomplished anything more with Lon Kruger at the helm of the program. As strange as that sounds considering Kruger — who agreed to a reported seven-year, $16 million contract Friday to become Oklahoma’s coach — brought in his seven-year tenure Rebel Fever back to Southern Nevada, it was obvious this year that the program had hit its ceiling.

At best, they had become a team that gets eliminated in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

While for some schools that’s nothing to be ashamed of, and something that was purely a fantasy at UNLV before Kruger was hired in 2004, the expectations have always been higher in Las Vegas.

Give Kruger credit for taking the program to another level. They went from a team that was annually on the NCAA Tournament bubble, to a program that periodically squeaks into the top 25 rankings, wins significant games and is again well-thought-of nationally.

But there is so much more to accomplish. And, with the way the Rebels have performed the past two years, it appeared they had maxed-out their potential. UNLV has played in four of the past five NCAA tournaments, but was eliminated in the first round the past two years. This year, the Rebels were manhandled by Illinois in embarrassing fashion.

The loss was a signal that changes had to be made. A shake-up — whether it was with assistant coaches, recruiting strategies or player development — was needed.

It appears Kruger has helped the program take that step. His departure opens the door for UNLV to bring in a fresh face, someone who can build on the foundation Kruger laid and take the program to new heights. Yes, even higher than 2007, when the Rebels advanced to the Sweet 16, winning their first tournament game since reaching the Final Four in 1991.

The new coach — let me join the hordes of people lobbying for former Rebel Dave Rice — needs to be someone who understands the program’s rich tradition and lofty expectations.

The Rebels are the darlings of Las Vegas. They are the professional sports team in a city that has no such franchise.

The new coach needs to be able to sell that message to recruits. Kruger was great at developing players — Louis Amundson and Joel Anthony had no business being in the NBA until Kruger arrived — but did a sub-par job on the recruiting trail. With nationally respected high school programs Findlay Prep and Bishop Gorman High in UNLV’s backyard, it’s safe to say Kruger repeatedly came up short in attracting top-tier talent. That needs to change.

While several are surely steaming that Kruger elected to leave, you can’t fault his logic. Oklahoma plays in a major conference, its games are televised by a respected network and the athletic department has unlimited resources.

At UNLV, dealing with a budget crisis would have been part of moving forward.

Now, Kruger has a fresh $16 million contract. And, UNLV has a chance to make a fresh start.

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  1. I commend you for stating the obvious about Kruger that everyone else always seemed to be afraid to say.

  2. I really think Findlay Prep coach Michael Peck is the right guy for this job. Everyone is talking about Dave Rice and Theus forget about them. If you want a young, hungry coach with the ability to recruit and coach em up he's the guy!

  3. I like the way you put a positive spin on such a unexpected and potentially devistating event in UNLV basketball. I'm not 100% with you yet... but I want to be :)

  4. I agree with you Ray. UNLV was maxed out under Kruger bring in Rice!

  5. My concern is with the kids/young men that are thinking about coming to UNLV as well as the current team members. Their heads are probably muddled up with the rumors of he was staying or going. I felt that he was a great coach. My hope is that UNLV pursues Dave Rice. I dont believe that Theus, with baggage from NMST, would be a good fit. Rice would be leaving a BYU team with experience in the post season. While I still believe BYU was a one man team, it does take a team to make it that far in the tournament. With the possibility of going against North Carolina next season and games with Louisville and Kansas State; I believe a coach with experience in high-profile games is the way to go.

  6. Its like Real Estate - Location, Location, Location

    In Basketball, it's recruiting, recruiting, recruiting!

    Take SDSU coach Fisher. Not so great coach, but a great recruiter.

  7. Mike Peck? Do you seriously want to take that risk?

    Mike Peck has proven he can coach at the high school level with top-tier talent. Findlay is like a Kentucky-level program in high school basketball. It attracts top talent. Even Rick Barnes can coach top talent. Is Peck going to get top talent at UNLV?

    He could be a head coach, but we shouldn't be willing to take that risk. Bring him on as an assistant if he's that good.

    Ray, the only things I agree with you on are that this could be a good thing and that Rice should be the next head coach. I don't think Kruger had maxed out his potential at all.

  8. I don't understand the baggage Theus had at New Mexico State? The Herb Pope deal was not his fault. He made New Mexico State a winner, something that didn't seem possible after McCarthy left. Theus should be announced as the new coach tomorrow. He will recruit the heck out of the local talent, plus probably gain some significant LA area kids, too. This needs to happen.

  9. Nice job Ray with this article. It was clear that Livengood wanted to see strides to get this program to the next level. No NBA first round draft choices. Willis should have been an NBA first rounder and he is unlikely to be drafted. End of the day too many transfers not enough top high school talent which led to no on court leadership.

    UNLV has better facilities than most in the country. Leader in national attendance. A top prep school in it's own backyard. Elijah leaves for Kansas, Billy to SDSU, Thompson, Joseph and Bradley for Texas. Findlays top player headed to Texas next year. Gutierez at Cal and likely Shabazz was gone too. Where were they on Leonard of SDSU? Marshall is a clear leader who is a local, but they could never add anymore as they were always taking a kid who was not getting time at a bigger program.

    Reggie Theus can go into a recruits home and explain what NBA teams want. He brings this experience. He recruited nationally to of all places New Mexico State. If hiring an AAU Coach on staff would help get recruits - he would do it. Rice is a nice guy, but has never shown up on the radar for a single job - Big Sky or any other job. Let him get that seasoning first. Have Reggie hire Grant Rice to be on his bench. Let him take a shot at getting Stacey Augmon from the NBA to be on the bench with him and Sidney Green. If Rice was not connected to UNLV, would he even be on our radar? No and we should recognize this.

    Lon was a first class guy and did a lot for the program. Livengood got Sean Miller to Arizona and now it is paying dividends.

    Be it Ernie Kent, Tim Floyd, Reggie, Randy Bennett, Rex Walters, Tubby Smith, Greg Marshall, Chris Mack or Lorenzo Romar - they would step into a great situation. Schedule like Gonzaga taking on all comers be it at home or on the road. Wasn't Floyd in the same Bruce Pearl situation for Mayo only a few years ago?

    Nice article Ray, while people might think people who are critical were hating on Kruger it was more to ask the question about his concept of taking the next step. After a flat performance against Illinois showing no fire during or after the game, while HBO shows a special on the Runnin Rebel great teams a week prior, all anyone wanted was to see growth forward after having a hyped team going into the season. If we have learned anything watching the past 2 NCAA Tourneys - you can recruit to smaller schools NBA talent and you can also compete against the big boys if you have fire.

  10. THE ONLY thing i disagree with this article is David Rice,we need a coach with head coaching experience as UNLV basketball is too important to trust to an unknown. That leaves one choice Reggie Theus plus with his So Cal roots its a no brainer

  11. "Major conference, respected network, unlimited resorces." UNLV lacks all of these, yet you think Kruger was not performing at the level the "tradition rich" UNLV program deserves? If you are still living in 1990, go down to the Sahara and wonder why they are closing. Because that's what happens when you don't make the investment to keep up with the changing market.