Kruger welcomes Oklahoma alumni back

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NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Hollis Price and Quannas White were among the last group of Sooners to make it to the Final Four. Blake Griffin almost got there, too.

And for Oklahoma to reach the same heights again, Lon Kruger wants all of the players from the program's past to be unified with those from the present.

More than 100 former players turned out for a reunion weekend that featured a Legends Alumni Game on Saturday. Price and White, the backcourt tandem from the Sooners' 2002 Final Four run, played - albeit on opposite teams - and Griffin came out as a spectator.

Two of Kruger's predecessors, Kelvin Sampson and Dave Bliss, served as opposing coaches in a game that had to be decided in sudden-death overtime.

"I think a lot of guys have been waiting for this to happen," said Garfield Heard, the No. 3 pick in the 1970 NBA draft after he starred in Norman. "No one has reached out like this before, except for Lon, and I think it's going to really grow and be bigger and bigger every year."

Oklahoma hopes to make the reunion an annual tradition on the weekend before the first football game, instead of allowing players to stay away for years at a time while relationships grow stale.

"I think that's how it should be," said Price, who returned to earn his degree earlier this year. "I think whoever's going to be the coach should probably try to reach back and try to bring all the guys back. I think that's how a good program stays good, because everybody wants to stay involved with the program."

Kruger inherits a team that has had back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in decades and also wound up at the center of an NCAA investigation for the second time in five years. Attendance at the Lloyd Noble Center has waned, and Kruger's rebuilding job has stretched beyond bringing in the best prospects he can.

"Everyone here hopefully will take some ownership and talk to their friends and talk to their family," Kruger said. "We want the Lloyd Noble to be a place where the students want to come and share that time with their friends, but it's also a great time for families to come and share time."

Price, White and other teammates from the 2001-02 team were honored at halftime in a ceremony marking 10 years since that Final Four season.

"That was a great team," said Sampson, the coach at the time. "Very rarely in your coaching career do you have a team that you say, `We may be the best team in the country.' And going into the Final Four, I actually thought that we had a chance to win it."

Kruger said he didn't have much trouble rounding up the past players because "they're proud to come back and relive those memories."

"I think he's definitely moving in the right direction getting all the players back and trying to get the fans back into basketball," said White, now an AAU coach in Baton Rouge, La. "I believe he's a good coach. I think he's got great assistant coaches and I think this year is going to be really good."

"I think the program needs this to get it back to where it should be," he added. "I think it's good."

Griffin and his brother, Taylor, were among the representatives from Jeff Capel's time at Oklahoma. Capel was fired in March but cleared of any violations in a joint investigation by the NCAA and the university that has focused on his former assistant, Oronde Taliaferro.

Capel did not attend. He is now an assistant coach at Duke and had been traveling to China with the team.

"I think that's the biggest thing is when guys feel like they're always welcome back, they're going to want to come back," Griffin said.

Sampson, whose Cream team beat the Crimson on Nate Erdmann's layup in overtime, was impressed by the showing and said "the fact that Lon Kruger could pull this off in his first year tells you a little about Lon."

"We've had a pretty good run here, a lot of great coaches, a lot of great people," Sampson said. "The Lon Kruger era will be as good as any."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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