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August 22, 2007

UNLV coach Kruger dives right back into job

UNLV, an NCAA Sweet 16 team last year, opens its 2007-08 season on Nov. 9 against Montana State at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Coach Lon Kruger says he'll be ready to go.

"I could coach that tomorrow," said Kruger, who underwent heart bypass surgery on Aug. 2. "I feel just like you do. I may get fatigued a little bit. But as far as just for a short period of time, I feel really good. The recovery has gone great."

Kruger, who turned 55 on Sunday, had gone in for his annual physical in early July. He also had a stress test, and it barely revealed anything out of the ordinary.

But Kruger, who kept himself in excellent physical condition, probably wouldn't have had a stress test if not for a family history of heart trouble. His father, Don, had his first bypass surgery when he was 52. He had another at 59. He eventually had a heart transplant, and he died in 1997.

"Certainly part of the reason for the stress test was my dad," Kruger said. "And if it wasn't for family history, my test was so close to being OK. But given that history, there was something there the doctor didn't quite like."

A CT scan followed, and it revealed some blockages. An angiogram was scheduled for July 31.

"We did the angiogram thinking at that point we might be able to do just angioplasty," Kruger said. "But when we got in there and looked at it you know, you're sitting there with the doctor looking for yourself and he was pointing out all of the blockages. He said, 'We can't get it with angioplasty. We have to go in and bypass.' "

Doctors believed it would be a quadruple bypass. It turned out Kruger needed six bypasses.

The surgery lasted four hours, and everything went as planned. Kruger made his first appearance in the basketball office at UNLV just five days later.

"I talked to him Monday night, and he said something about wondering if the guys would be around the next day," assistant coach Steve Henson said. "So I wasn't real surprised he came in that Tuesday.

"He looked better before and after (the surgery) than anybody on our staff. He has a big scar on his arm, but other than that he looks great."

Kruger said there was no reason to wait to dive back into his duties.

"They want you doing as much as you can without overdoing it," Kruger said. "I'm not overdoing it. I go in the office for a bit, and if I get tired I'll go home and take a bit of a nap.

"I'm not spending that much time in the office. I'm not trying to break any records. I'll build up gradually. In another 4-6 weeks I'll be back to a seminormal routine."

Kruger has his work cut out for him after the Rebels won the Mountain West Conference championship and finished 30-7 last season. He loses four senior starters, including leading scorer and rebounder Wendell White. He also won't have the services of his son Kevin, the Rebels' assists leader last season.

UNLV has some talent returning, led by former Rivals.com five-star prospect Wink Adams (13.9 ppg last season). The Rebels also have five-star freshman center Beas Hamga, who could have a major impact. Plus, the MWC will be undergoing major renovations. There are five new coaches in the nine-team league, and no players return from the All-MWC first team.

"We're a really young team, and our maturity level will be huge," Kruger said. "How quickly we come together and take care of the little things will tell a lot. We're fairly talented.

"(Hamga) is going to be good, but he won't be a junior right away like people want him to be. We have to guard against the expectations somewhat."

Is Kruger worried his young charges will be scared to upset him post surgery?

"I don't think so," Kruger said. "If that's a byproduct of this it might be a good thing. But I wouldn't recommend anyone go to these lengths."

Sense of humor intact.

Heart on the mend.

Eyes on repeating as MWC champs.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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