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UNLV players, recruits react to news of Kruger’s sudden departure

Shocked’ is the general consensus as seventh-year Rebels coach bolts for same job at Oklahoma


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV coach Lon Kruger yells encouragement to guards Anthony Marshall, center, and Oscar Bellfield as they head to the bend for a time out against Colorado State during their Mountain West Conference game at Moby Arena Saturday, February 19, 2011 in Fort Collins. UNLV won the game 68-61 to split the season series.

Updated Saturday, April 2, 2011 | 2:31 a.m.

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.

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UNLV coach Lon Kruger talks to forward Quintrell Thomas after Thomas got into early foul trouble during Saturday's game against Wisconsin. UNLV upset 25th-ranked Wisconsin 68-65.

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Marquette transfer Reggie Smith

A few days ago, Lon Kruger gathered his players following a team workout on the UNLV campus to address some rumors that had been swirling connecting him to job openings around the country.

Some had heard these rumors or read about them, some had not.

"He pretty much said don't believe everything you read," sophomore guard Anthony Marshall said. "We thought we had nothing to worry about, so it's just kind of shocking, but I understand that it's a business."

The business side of college basketball has now left the Rebels players wondering what's next, as Kruger, who just completed his seventh season in Las Vegas, on Friday accepted the vacant position at Oklahoma.

"It'd be different if it was high school basketball, but at the college and pro levels, it's just a business," Marshall added. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't saddened by it. He's a great coach. At the same time, I understand it's a business and it happens a lot."

Marshall was reached on his cell phone, and was in town, but did not show up for the Friday night team meeting at the Thomas & Mack Center, where Kruger addressed five players — Kendall Wallace, Carlos Lopez, Quintrell Thomas, Oscar Bellfield and Reggie Smith. Some others were out of town, while some were here but didn't show up. Kruger called each of his players before flying back to Las Vegas earlier in the day, talking with them or leaving messages before his flight took off.

Kruger met with Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione and President David Boren in Houston, accepting a seven-year, $16 million offer, which will double the $1.1 million he was pulling in annually at UNLV. The Sooners will pay UNLV a $500,000 buyout for the two years remaining on Kruger's current deal.

Those who attended the meeting were dealing with mixed emotions.

"Right now, I just feel like everybody's worried about how things are going to go with them individually," sophomore forward Quintrell Thomas said. "When a coach leaves, it directly affects you, because it could be like at Kentucky, where guys were there before. A new coach brings in his own people, and you're worried about your playing time.

"I'm just like everybody else. I'm in wait-and-see mode. I don't know what to do right now. It's a little nerve-racking, because a coach could come in, not like me at all and I won't be playing. I'm towards the end of my college career with only two years left to play."

Thomas redshirted during the 2009-10 season following a transfer from Kansas, and after struggling to find his footing in his first season at UNLV, hit a stride late and became a dependable interior force on both ends of the floor within Kruger's system.

One player in the middle of a similar redshirt stint is Marquette transfer Reggie Smith, who came to UNLV at the start of the spring semester and will be eligible in mid-December with 2.5 years left to play.

"It's very surprising," he said. "It's kind of hard because we weren't expecting it and no one was thinking about it. At the same time, you've got to know it's a business. We're not mad at him or anything; we just wish we'd known what was going on at the time.

"It's kind of stressful, because I'm just getting here, starting to get used to everyone and everything only to have to start over again."

Smith said he will likely stay at UNLV, though whoever the school hires will go in the books as his third coach in the one year that's passed since he graduated from high school.

The top two candidates at this point for the opening appear to be a pair of former UNLV players — Dave Rice and Reggie Theus.

Rice, who played on UNLV's national championship team in 1990, is the associate head coach at BYU. He was previously a UNLV assistant for 11 seasons and is more than ready to take over a program of his own. Not only would his uptempo offensive system perfectly fit with the current group of players at UNLV, but he'd have immediate, built-in local recruiting ties through his brother, Grant, who is the head coach at powerhouse Bishop Gorman.

Theus suited up for the Rebels in the late 1970s under Jerry Tarkanian, and was the head coach at New Mexico State from 2005-07, leading the Aggies to a 41-23 record and one NCAA tournament appearance. He left there to take over the NBA's Sacramento Kings, and is currently an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He's a noted star recruiter, as he was able to lure plenty of top talent from the East Coast to play for him in Las Cruces, N.M.

Whoever gets the job will likely have to re-recruit some of the current prep standouts already committed to UNLV, including the 2013 duo of Findlay Prep's Nigel Williams-Goss and Lincoln County senior Dantley Walker, who will head off on a two-year Mormon mission before arriving on campus.

"I was pretty shocked. I didn't really expect it," said Walker, who heard the news via text message from his father this morning. "I would have loved to play for coach Kruger; he's one of the top reasons I committed. But I've always wanted to be a Rebel, so it'd have to be something drastic to make that not happen."

Williams-Goss received the news in Washington, D.C., on Friday, as the Pilots are there until Sunday after falling to Dwyer (Fla.) High on Thursday in the semifinals of the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational in Bethesda, Md.

"I was shocked. It had never really crossed my mind that coach Kruger would accept another job," said Williams-Goss, one of 2013's top recruits who committed to UNLV in December. "Really, just a lot of confusion right now. It puts me in a tough position as to whether to re-open my recruitment back up. I was just kind of confused and I'm hurt, because I built a good relationship with coach Kruger. Just a lot of emotions going through my mind."

Later Friday night, a YouTube video surfaced of Nigel and his father, Virgil, who moved to Las Vegas before his freshman season at Findlay, discussing their feelings on the situation. Both emphasized that Nigel committed early because of the relationship he'd built with Kruger over three years and said that there will be no rush to either de-commit or decide to stay committed to UNLV.

Incoming freshman forward Grandy Glaze, who is already inked to a national letter of intent, could not be reached, despite several attempts. The same was the case for several players who were out of town, including UCLA transfer Mike Moser and sophomore guard Justin Hawkins.

Another area to watch in the coming weeks will be the statuses of the returning Rebels.

Marshall, regardless of who is hired, said he intends on staying put in his hometown. Expect almost all of his teammates to follow suit.

"I came here for a reason and that was to represent Las Vegas and UNLV, and I'm going to stick to my decision," he said.

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  1. Anthony, if by some chance you're reading this, Thanks for sticking to your decision to represent Las Vegas and UNLV. This community really does love you.

    And to all the Rebel players: You all came to UNLV with a purpose, don't let Kruger's departure stop you from that. This team is going places with or without him at the helm. Lon's a nice guy and I have all the respect in the world for him, but make him regret leaving UNLV.

  2. These players get a whiff of Reggie Theus and none will leavehes a players coach and they will all like playing for him.....Kinda unique in that he left with possibly our best squad next year......Im willing to bet the next coach will have immediate success

  3. The fact that the team is thought to be a good team next year will make this a very attractive job....question is how much will we be willing to pay. The Boosters btter come up with some ducketts.

  4. Students are losing their favorite professors, who are also leaving in droves for better jobs at universities with deeper pockets. Do you feel as sorry for them as you feel for these players? There are some backward priorities in this backward city, that's for sure.

  5. Anthony Marshall is "taking a pass, on the team meeting tonight".......hmmmmmmmmm speaks volumes.

  6. Give me a break, James P. Reza.

  7. Rebs should still be the best team in the MWC next year receiving a NCAA tourney bid too.

    Can't wait to see them run the floor next year in a Tarkanian style offense!

    Even if players work and play hard, mediocre talent will not match top notch recruits with talent and athleticism. Shabazz for Mayor 2012!

  8. bruce pearl ,,,,,,,,bank on it

  9. @ James P Reza...Tell me you wouldn't take a deal to double your salary...especially when the University you currently work for is on the verge of financial exigency.

    What a joke you are

  10. Everybody knows taking a job for money is a bad idea. It never works out. You take it for happiness and satisfaction. With all unlv's growth and comming attractions (practice fac. ,stadium, top level recruits from the valley, and a town who cares about you treats you like a god) you just don't trade down. Let's compare. Unlv- basketball town. Ou- football town. Money goes to ou. The way the city thinks about you- easy unlv. Existing talent- unlv, back yard talent- unlv, deep pockets- ou, facilities that you request and you get- unlv.

    In basketball terms this is a trade down exept in money. What this shows is Lon knows he can't coach at the top so he likes the rebuilds. Something odd that people don't expect cause for most coaches it he opposite. For most coaches , it's a trade down to leave a growing success for a failure but for Lon it's the bread and butter.

    Thanks for getting us back on your feet, now sell your house to your son ( a real rebel) and let's move on

  11. To all the players and recruits.

    Just wait to see who the next coach is going to be. We as fans love all of you and with the talent you all have you can bet the next coach will love you too. The truth is the next coach might not be able you teach you as strong of defense but might be able to really help you offensively. That was always krugers weakness. Just don't leave or decommit till we see what's up and you can think clear of emotion. Runnin rebels are back.

  12. This just shows once again that college coaches are nomads and prostitutes.

  13. Please hire Reggie Theus.

  14. At least no one will EVER try to lure away your football coach.

  15. Boy is Nigel Williams Goss and his father full of themselves. A youtube video posting your thoughts about your recruitment and the departure of Lon Kruger, really? They feeling themselves a little too hard! What does Nigel do? Every time I watch Findlay play he does nothing, but maybe a little floater in the lane every now and then. Instead of spending time posting youtube videos maybe he should be figuring out why his team got bounced in the first round of the NHSI tournament and will go down as the most underacheiving Findlay Prep team in school history!

  16. I tell my kid, Don't expect loyalty from anyone; not your employer or the people around you. You get what can and you move on. Use people if you have too, but for God Sakes be selfish and greedy. For me to tell him anything less would be doing him a disservice. That's not the workd I grew up in, but it is his world. I suggest you tell you kids the same thing.

  17. haha if getting Nigel means hiring Mike Brown, sorry kid but this might not work out

  18. Whoever the new coach is.....lets hope he....1.Lets the Rebels Run 2.Can recruit like heck
    3.Knows how to coach defense both zone and full court 4. Loves being in Vegas and loves the history and mystique of the UNLV Running Rebels!

  19. I feel Dave Rice can do great things at UNLV, especially knowing the conference and his recruiting ties in the Valley. If not Rice, it better be Theus. I will be very dissapointed if it's not one of our own.

  20. Very interesting goings on, and I for one am very intrigued with the possibility of Bruce Pearl coming to Vegas. The guy is a proven recruiter and winner, is a little "off" / passionate about the game, depending on your perspective. Remind you of anyone?

    Probably will be Rice though, it makes the most sense.

  21. 5 players show up to see Lon off. Anyone see an issue with this and how it relates to how this team played in their NCAA tourney game? No leadership on the floor.

    Look at Carlos - the guy is wearing head phones to hear from Kruger like he is about ready to go on a road trip. Really, do you need to have your tunes with you for a team meeting?

    Bruce Pearl would be great. Lets have him clear up his NCAA issues first, before Livengood makes another Tim Floyd mistake.

    Rice vs Theus - Reggie Theus in a landslide. If Rice was a hot property, Bradley or Wyoming would have taken him. Fresno and Eastern Washington are not considering him. Theus is the guy if you want a UNLV connection.

    Tell him that he needs a first rate coaching staff and he can get Sidney Green (former NCAA Head Coach), Augmon (Nuggets Asst Coach) and maybe LJ.

    The Rice conversation has to end until he gets a Head Coaching job of his own and has the success of Theus, Pearl, Floyd, Marshall or Shaka Smart has had.

  22. Bull Crap. Those is know realize that Dave Rice is absolutely the best choice. This article says it best.

  23. The first three paragraphs of this story outline that Coach Kruger gathered his players last week and told them, essentially, that he will be returning to UNLV and he will not be lured away by the advances of Oklahoma.

    Less than 24 hours later, it is learned that Lon Kruger had accepted a coaching position at Oklahoma.

    My initial comment was, "So Lon Kruger is duplicitous. Let him go. Next!" I think the facts stand alone on that statement [duplicitous (d -pl s -t s, dy -). adj. Given to or marked by deliberate deceptiveness in behavior or speech] and yet the comment was removed.

    In fact, I've never seen such a high percentage of comments removed from one story.

    If the Sun sees it necessary to (again) remove this comment, perhaps they can enlighten us as to the reason why.