Nearly 36 years ago, Pan American University gave Lon Kruger his first opportunity to be a men’s basketball head coach. On Wednesday, the program announced that it will be giving Kruger another first, as he will become the only person to be inducted into UTRGV’s Hall of Fame and Hall of Honor when he is officially enshrined in November.
Kruger coached at PAU from 1982-86 but never lost his connection to the program. In 2002, he and his wife, Barbara, contributed the athletic department’s first six-figure donation.
“It’s a huge honor,” Kruger said. “Barb and I loved our four years in the Valley. Loved the people we met there. Had a terrific experience.”
Now the head coach at Oklahoma, Kruger will be honored at a dinner on Nov. 8, the night before his Sooners play their opener against UTRGV.
Kruger posted a 52-59 record during his four seasons in Edinburg, including a 20-8 mark in 1985-86 — a win percentage of .714 that has not been matched in any season since.
Pan American was 7-21 in Kruger’s first season, 13-14 in his second season and 12-16 in his third before making the drastic leap during his final year.
“I had the opportunity to do that at a young age and learn, and the program made some progress. We started out at an interesting point and made some progress,” Kruger, now 65, said. “Coaches always feel like they’re ready. We look back on it and we appreciate more the fact that they were taking a chance on a young coach who hadn’t coached before.”
Kruger went on to coach at Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma, becoming the first coach in history to lead five teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Current UTRGV head coach Lew Hill was an assistant under Kruger for 12 years, including OU’s 2016 run to the Final Four.
Kruger said he always felt very welcome and at home in the Valley, so he and his wife chose to remain active boosters of the program.
“We really liked the people, and the people were very supportive,” Kruger said. “So when the opportunity to give back came, and we made that decision, it was one we did with enthusiasm and also much appreciation.”
The rest of UTRGV’s six-member Hall of Fame class will be honored at an induction luncheon in February. The inductees are:
>> Gary Doyle, baseball, 1971-72
>> Rob Hubbard, men’s tennis, 1975-78
>> Jaclyn Muszynski, volleyball, 2000-03
>> Elizabeth Ortega-Hilpert, women’s track and field, 1992-96, and cross country, 1990-95
>> Fredy Sanguinetti, men’s soccer, 1988-91