Fresh out of college, Carter Kruger had a vision when he became a volunteer men’s assistant basketball coach at Mankato State University.
Kruger wanted to be a head coach someday.
Someday has already come.
After serving five years as an assistant coach in various capacities, Kruger, 26, has been hired as the women’s head basketball coach at Barton Community College — pending approval from the Barton Board of Directors this afternoon in a 3:30 meeting.
Kruger replaces Darin Spence, whom he served as an assistant for the 2011-12 campaign, Spence’s one-and-done whirlwind season at Barton.
Spence was introduced as the head women’s coach at NCAA Division-II Newman University in Wichita 13 days ago, opening the door for Kruger.
“It’s a great opportunity at a great college where there’s a lot of rich history and I’m just excited for the chance to build on that,” Kruger said Wednesday afternoon inside Kirkman Activity Center. “It’s kind of hit me all in the last few hours here about what we need to do in order to move this program forward and I’m definitely up to the task.
“It’s kind of hard for me to put into words how excited I am. This is the kind of thing I’ve been waiting for my whole life, and I’m excited to go and take full advantage of it.”
Barton athletic director Trevor Rolfs couldn’t curb his enthusiasm regarding Kruger’s appointment. Rolfs introduced him as the new women’s head coach at the Barton athletic banquet on Tuesday night.
“We had some high interest in the job and some quality candidates,” Rolfs said. “At the end of the day, we felt like Carter was the best fit for the job. As I’ve told you before, we’re looking for stability within that position and Carter had been in the league three years now as an assistant, grew up in a basketball family and we really feel like Carter has the background to be up to the challenge for his first head-coaching job.”
Kruger becomes Barton’s fifth head women’s basketball coach in the last six years, although there’s the suspicion that he might be here at least a few seasons.
“I think Carter has it in his heart to build that program and give it some stability,” Rolfs said. “I’m excited about his opportunity and the players, this year’s team and the incoming recruits, they love him. I think the timing of this was critical to get this done.
“It’s time-sensitive for a lot of reasons. The girls that are here want to know who their head coach is going to be before they go home for the summer, and finals are next week. The incoming freshmen, it’s a very sensitive time for them. They signed on with the college, for sure, and they also signed on with the coach, too. They and their parents want to know what their futures bring.”
When Spence accepted the Barton women’s head coaching post late last July after former head coach Keith Ferguson was asked to resign, Kruger came on board as Spence’s assistant.
After Spence moved on, Kruger became an instant favorite for the job.
Kruger absorbed his time under Spence, who surpassed the 300th Jayhawk Conference coaching victory plateau last winter.
“Coach Spence taught me a lot about the right way to do things,” Kruger said. “The right way to run a program, the right way to deal with players and the right way to go out and recruit. To get that reinforced and kind of learn a different way of doing things, in a lot of respects, is good.
“I want to thank Coach Spence for all that he taught me over the last year. His attention for the minor details is one thing that is different from me from where I’ve been … the minor details of what you’re wearing for a practice uniform and preparation … just a different mentality, which was refreshing.”
Kruger wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Kelly, formerly the head coach for 14 seasons at Southwest Minnesota State before moving on to NCAA Division-II Adams State in Alamosa, Colo., where he has been head coach the past six seasons.
But at the same time, Kruger wanted to blaze his own trails. He spent two years at Mankato State, his alma mater, then served as an assistant women’s coach at Garden City, a Jayhawk West sister school of Barton.
“I literally grew up in the gym,” Kruger said. “My dad had a big influence on me in coaching.”