One of only two Kansas State players to ever be named Big Eight Player of the Year twice, Lon Kruger led the Wildcats to a pair of Big Eight championships and two Elite Eight appearances during his three seasons playing for head coach Jack Hartman.

Kruger was one of many former K-State players expected to attend the Legends Weekend celebrations this weekend, which were unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.

That did not stop K-State Sports Extra D. Scott Fritchen from conversations with Kruger about his favorite K-State experiences as a player and as a coach:

D. Scott Fritchen: What are your fondest memories of K-State?

Lon Kruger: We had large crowd at home. It was always influential. The game advantage at Ahearn was incredible every night out. Coach Hartman was extraordinary. The culture of competing hard and being prepared and organized, coach Hartman left no detail unattended. He was scary. And we had guys who really just fought like crazy about each other and really enjoyed our time as teammates. Still today we stay in touch, about 12 or 13 of those teammates, and send emails and messages and every birthday and anniversary. And that is 50 years ago. Actually, they are all, honestly. There are other boys in the same class – Danny Beard, Gene McVey, Larry Williams. Then there are boys a year older – Bob Chipman, Ernie Kusnyer and Dennis Lull. Then there are the younger boys – Carl Gerlach and Bobby Noland, and all those boys. We talk regularly. We had a great group of guys fighting like crazy about each other and were very proud of what we represented and the Wildcats. It was just a wonderful time. It was incredible.

Fritchen: Being a native of Silver Lake, what was the feeling of pride in representing the state of Kansas and wearing that K state jersey? Have you grown into a K-State fan?

Kruger: I grew up a K-State fan. I grew up and when they played KU or K-State, I always drew for both of them to win and when they played with each other I always drew for K-State. Growing up, I wanted to see both teams go undefeated and then play with each other. But, yes, I was a Kansas State fan growing up. It was only 45 minutes down the road to Silver Lake. One of my best memories was the fact that parents and people had the opportunity to share that college experience when we were in school there. And they traveled down Highway-24 there in Manhattan for every game. We had a good, fun experience with Silver Lake family and fans.

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Fritchen: What does Legends Weekend mean to you?

Lon Kruger: Legends weekend is a special time and maybe when we coached there in 1989-90 it was the last time we could be a part of it. It was always great to see people who have played and it is great for current players to see players from the past come back and share feelings of loyalty, loyalty and pride. The tradition of the state of Kansas is incredibly great. There have been a lot of great players. To see them and have a good time and share those memories and stories with their teammates is simply a great time to see people get together and share all those stories.

It always has to do with people. You have a chance to share those memories with your teammates and remember your moments on campus as a student and interact with fans and promoters – all of those things. College is truly the best time of a person’s life. Often times in that moment you do not realize this, but look back years later and understand those university years, you are doing what you love with the people you love and the Kansas state fans are the best – the old days of Ahearn and then crossing to Bramlage. College is a great time in people’s lives. Returning is an excuse to go back and share those memories with your teammates and with the people you like to be around. It’s pretty special.

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Fritchen: Last March, you announced your retirement after an extraordinary career that began as an assistant coach in the state of Pittsburgh in 1976. What did you learn most about yourself during your coaching career? What were your keys to continued success for so many years?

Kruger: There are so many things happening over 45 or 50 years. I think the thing that stands out the most is the value of my foundation from my parents. They were all about integrity and they were all about others and being positive and optimistic. I just think the value of this from the time you can walk, being nearby every day in your home, is so impressive. We tried never to go too far from those bases. I think it was as much as anything else. We stayed quite consistent with our parents values.

Fritchen: You are one of three coaches leading five programs in the NCAA Tournament. When you take a step back, from a big photography perspective, how impressive was that achievement and what is the sense of pride you have for that achievement?

Kruger: I did not think much about it. As we changed programs and traveled, we never planned to do so. It was one thing or another that led to it. Again, it is trying to influence the values ​​we learn from our parents and apply to them every day. There is nothing natural about this. It’s just getting up every day and working to get a little better and being consistent and more importantly than everything else has to do with others. Whatever you can do to help those around you have a good day and make a little progress that was our goal every day.

Fritchen: How special was that 1988 season at K-State?

Kruger: Absolutely special. It was a special group of boys who went to the Elite Eight and got a match from the Final Four. It was a group of boys who trusted each other, cared for each other, accepted responsibilities, and waited for others to do so. Of course, when you had Mitch Richmond and Steve Henson at the helm and then the other guys were really good players around them. It was a special time and a special group.

One thing I will miss the most is those spontaneous celebrations after a win like we had against Purdue. You get some of them every year and there is no way to give a value to that, to see the expression on the players faces when you enter the locker room. It ‘s incredibly big. It’s like watching the kids open packages at Christmas. This is the greatest pleasure from those celebrations, seeing those expressions on their faces and happiness and joy. I will always miss those moments. That victory over Purdue was one of the special ones. Going back and beating a very, very good Purdue team was very, very special. It was a big celebration. They are wonderful memories.

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Fritchen: Jack Hartman led the 1983 Pan American Team, you and Bob Chipman served as assistant coaches and Michael Jordan and that team practiced at the Ahearn Field House. What stood out from those practices?

Kruger: It was a great team. The only thing, a unique memory, we were doing one-on-one training from the arm where the striker takes the ball and the defensive guy throws the ball to the arm, and the attacker attacks. Literally, after that training was over, what Michael did in that training, literally the ball holder could not move forward. As a coach, you appreciate it when someone is very good on defense, but Michael stood out with his ability to defend the ball, slide his legs and be physical. That caught everyone’s attention on the first day, and since then it was Michael’s team, and of course so.

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Fritchen: What comes to mind when you see the famous photo where you posed with Jack Gardner, Tex Winter, Cotton Fitzsimmons and Jack Gardner at the Ahearn Field House.

Kruger: Scary pride. Great pride and great tradition. I was honored to be a part of it all. The state of Kansas is so special to so many people and of course Barb and I who are graduates certainly feel that way without question. Whenever Kansas State plays we are always checking the score. This goes back many years. I followed Kansas State all those years growing up being close to all those coaches, to think we had the opportunity to be part of that tradition, we are honored, grateful and there are no better memories.