FAYETTEVILLE – First working together as NBA head coach and assistant for the Atlanta Hawks from 2002-2004, Lon Kruger and Eric Musselman worked together again so they can coach against each other these next two basketball seasons.
Musselman’s Arkansas Razorbacks of the SEC and Kruger’s Oklahoma Sooners of the Big 12 will meet this 2020-2021 season on Dec. 12 at the BOK Center in Tulsa and return to the BOK Center for a yet to be filled date in the 2021-2022 season, it was announced Wednesday.
Kruger, the former Atlanta Hawks, Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV coach, initiated the scheduling with Musselman, the former Atlanta assistant and NBA head coach at Golden State Sacramento. The scheduling then was formalized by Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek and Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione. “The idea originated with Coach Kruger,” Musselman said Wednesday. “He had called about this thing early on and then Hunter got involved with the Oklahoma AD and so on and so forth. But the idea was originated with Coach Kruger.”
Musselman was asked about the Tulsa setting, 116 miles from the UA campus in Fayetteville and 125 miles from the OU campus in Norman, rather than home and home, “I just think geographically for both them and us it makes a lot of sense,” Musselman said. “It never really got to a home and home. I think this was, because we are friends, I think this probably made a little bit more sense.”
The Tulsa Razorback Club is among Arkansas’ largest booster clubs. Though never at the BOK Center, the Razorbacks have played 28 times in Tulsa against the University of Tulsa, Tulsa based Oral Roberts University and one neutral site game against Oklahoma State. “I think it’s a great series for a multitude of reasons,” Musselman said. “Obviously, geographically it makes a ton of sense. It makes great sense from a recruiting standpoint. Strength of schedule. Playing a Big 12 team at a neutral site is great, again. I think from a travel standpoint, it’s great for our student-athletes because it’s so close to Tulsa and it’s great for our fan base as well.”
Apparently it was great with his athletic director, too. “Hunter was really excited about,” Musselman said. “I think from an administration standpoint they thought it really made a lot of sense and I know both administrations went to Tulsa and had a meeting there and that’s kind of how it came about.”
Musselman was asked about working for Kruger in Atlanta and knowing Arkansas assistant Chris Crutchfield assisted Kruger at OU from 2011-2019. “I loved working for Coach Kruger,” Musselman said. “He’s just a really, really great human being. I didn’t really know him before working with him with the Hawks. Now he’s actually become close with my wife Danyelle because of the Coaches vs. Cancer stuff and her involvement in that and his involvement in that. At the Nike retreat stuff that the coaches have, he and his wife (Barbara), I’ve known them for so long. When his son Kevin was in high school we used to play one on one before and after practices.”
Of Crutchfield, who was informed Tuesday of the scheduling Musselman said, “Obviously he’s got tremendous respect for Coach Kruger, as I do.”
Musselman was asked to update on junior-to-be guard Isaiah Joe, still with the option of returning to Arkansas since he has not hired an agent, exploring NBA draft opportunities with no trial workouts or in-person interviews allowed because of the coronavirus restrictions. Also Razorbacks SEC Co-Player Mason Jones recently signed with an agent turning pro and graduated 2019-2020 senior guard Jimmy Whitt seeks possible NBA attention set back by the annual Portsmouth Senior All-Star game cancelled because of the coronavirus. “No update on Isaiah,” Musselman said. “He’s going through the process and has some interviews (via Internet) lined up. As far as Mason goes, like I’ve kind of said all along, we support him. He had an incredible year. It’s really hard to do the things he did – leading the nation in free throws attempted, leading the nation in free throws made. Mason had a Skype or whatever you want to call it, a virtual interview yesterday with a team. Jimmy Whitt had one early this morning already. I’ve been on the phone a lot about Mason with NBA guys. Now that we know that he’s in that draft, we just hope that he positions himself in front of the NBA teams to put himself in the best position to potentially be a draft pick and to live out his lifetime goals.”
The always dicey for most NBA becomes especially dicey under these coronavirus circumstances. “Nobody is going to get a real feel because right now there’s no Chicago pre-draft, there was no Portsmouth Invitational,” Musselman said.