NORMAN — Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard admitted he was stunned on Sunday. News had just gotten out the Big 12 Conference coaches had given its Coach of the Year prize to Texas’ Rick Barnes, passing on Woodard’s leader, Lon Kruger.
“I guess that’s how it goes sometimes,” he said.
On Monday, Kruger got his due. The Associated Press named the Sooner coach its 2014 Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year.
“It’s well deserved because he’s changed this program very fast,” senior forward Cameron Clark said.
Kruger led the Sooners to the 23-8 regular-season record, a second-place finish in the Big 12 and has his team ranked No. 17 in the country heading into the postseason. All three mark OU bests since 2009.
The Sooners enter the Big 12 tournament at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday as the event’s No. 2 seed. They will face either seventh-seeded Baylor or 10th-seeded TCU. Those two will meet Wednesday night.
Kruger’s players were ecstatic to hear their coach was honored.
“He’s deserves it,” OU guard Buddy Hield said. “He got us to where we can play night in and night out. You have to respect what he’s done with this team and this program. We’re moving on to higher heights now.”
The award marks the fourth time in Kruger’s been named “Coach of the Year” in a conference. He received the accolade from the Mountain West Conference in 2008 while coaching at UNLV. He was lauded as the SEC’s best in 1992 and 1994 while at Florida.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione was opening he’d get that kind of success when he hired Kruger away from the Runnin’ Rebels in April of 2011.
“Great coaches like Lon appreciate the recognition, but they also know this is a team game. If there’s any coach out there that preaches team and collective effort and how everyone plays a role in the success it’s Coach Kruger,” Castiglione said. “It’s nice to see him recognized, but he’ll say it’s even better to see the recognition going to the guys and the program and all the others who’ve made contributions to grow our program to this point.”