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Oklahoma Sooners Basketball Preview | Lon Kruger Talks Hoops With Crimson And Cream Machine

In anticipation of the 2014-15 Oklahoma basketball season, and to help us with a boost to our preview, I had the opportunity to visit with Sooners basketball coach Lon Kruger last week.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
"You know, last year we were under the radar a little bit but this year expectations are much higher and the guys understand that. They know that they have to do things on both ends of the floor and line up and get better every day." -Lon Kruger

CCM: Coach it's always great to talk with you. Tell us about your summer.

Coach Kruger: Summer was great! We had a lot going on with camps and our players had a great summer in terms of picking up some classes, as well as workouts, and Buddy of course was at Durant's camp and LeBron James' camp, and he played with the Bahamian National Team. So our guys had a good summer.

CCM: You guys have a preseason national ranking and were picked to be one of the top three teams in the conference. Where do you expect to see the most improvement over last season?

Coach Kruger: Expectations are different (this year). You know, last year we were under the radar a little bit but this year expectations are much higher and the guys understand that. They know that they have to do things on both ends of the floor and line up and get better every day.

CCM: One of the things you talked about in Kansas City was getting tougher under the basket and getting stronger on the boards. How much of that is a mental process and how much of it is getting guys physically stronger?

Coach Kruger: Yeah, it's a combination of the two. Certainly it's got to be mentally something that you want to do and want to work on every day. The guys understand that and they want to get better in those areas. It's been a big area of focus in the first few weeks of practice here.

CCM: Coach, you've got a team that is heavy with returning experience but you do have to replace the athleticism of Cam Clark (second leading scorer) and the leadership of Tyler Neal. Who are the frontrunners to fill those roles?

Coach Kruger: Cam and Tyler did a really good job last year and this year the junior class of Ryan Spangler, Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins really had a good off season. Those guys love to be in the gym, they love to work, and they all have that team first mentality. They have an attitude that really benefits the younger players. So those three guys together have given us great leadership.

CCM: Tell us about your four freshmen and what you're expecting to see from them now that you've got a team that is experienced in your system.

Coach Kruger: They've done a good job. They've done a really good job! Two guys, Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni MCNeace, are really similar to each other in that they're long, rangy, and athletic, and just a ton of upside. They came with a great attitude about learning and getting better.

Dante Buford still waiting word on some eligibility issue relative to some accreditation of his high school classes, and we'll get that a little bit later.

Then Bola Alade is working really hard every day with a great attitude about helping the team any way that he possibly can.

CCM: We've been able to watch Buddy and Isaiah grow up the last couple of years. Talk about their improvement and also where sophomore Jordan Woodard compliments your guard play.

Coach Kruger: One of the more satisfying, and gratifying, things as a coach is to see people change, and make progress, and get better. Those three guys that you're talking about love to get in the gym and they love to work at it and the result of their attitude is that they've gotten better. Jordan had a really good freshman year last year and I'm sure that he'll jump it a lot going into his sophomore year. You know, typically young players make the biggest jump between their freshman and sophomore years. They've been through the Big 12 now one time and they know what they've got to work on. All three have done a great job and it happened because they've invested time and they've done it sincerely.

CCM: How special is that trip to the Bahamas going to be for Buddy and for you guys?

Coach Kruger: It'll be a great trip. It'll be great competition with great teams down there. Of course with Buddy going home a lot of family and friends are excited about that as well. It's good timing for a trip like that.

CCM: Ryan Spangler came back home to play at Oklahoma. He's in his third year back with you but just his second year playing. How key is he going to be to what you want to do under the basket this season?

Coach Kruger: Ryan is the key in everything we do. He's just a coach's delight because he brings that work ethic, that attitude about getting better every day at practice. All the other players on the team really benefit from that. Ryan's a guy that work really hard in the offseason on that mid-range jumper and he's shooting that with a lot more confidence. He's a terrific rebounder and again just important in everything we do on both ends of the floor.

CCM: Final question, we're all hoping for TaShawn Thomas. What's the latest on his situation and when are you hoping to hear a resolute answer?

Coach Kruger: We're hoping to have something relatively soon. Again we've provided the information to the NCAA and it's been a good collaboration to this point in terms of getting as much information in front of them as we possibly can. TaShawn works awfully hard and is a very mature young guy who is going to graduate in May. He's done everything right and we're hopeful for a good ruling but we haven't heard anything back yet.