Hall of Fame: Jim Kruse (Water polo)

Richard Dunn

Growing up, his protective parents outlawed playing tackle

football, but Jim Kruse was given a clear lane in water polo, which

seemed to them like a nice thing to do.

But, then, they saw the pounding at two meters and head-butting near

the cage and thought twice about their approval.

"My parents came to their first water polo game and said, 'I'm not

sure I like you playing this sport.' But I said, 'Well, it's too late

now."' said Kruse, who would become a key member of the U.S. national

team, following an NCAA All-American career at UC Irvine.

From 1972 through the mid-80s, Kruse competed for the high-profile

Newport Harbor Water Polo Foundation, a summer club program under UCI

Coach Ted Newland. The foundation squad would play against the best open

competition in the country and vie each year for Amateur Athletic Union

titles.

Kruse, a former Newport Beach resident who became a hugely successful

commercial real estate broker in the 1980s, was an All-CIF Southern

Section choice at Fullerton High (Class of '70), then starred at

Fullerton College and UCI for two years each.

Kruse, who was 14 when he started playing, was an All-American at UCI

in 1972 and '73 under Newland. In 1986, Kruse was inducted into the UCI

Athletic Hall of Fame.

A two-meter standout in high school and community college, Kruse was

switched to driver at UCI, which lost to UCLA in the NCAA championship

game both years he was an Anteater.

Even though Kruse played on the U.S. national team from 1973 through

'78, he never played in the Olympics, because Team USA failed to qualify

for the 1976 Montreal Games.

After retiring from water polo in 1978 to enter the commercial real

estate business, Kruse wondered if he would regret the move, despite the

fact that he had become the top producer at Cushman and Wakefield and was

well on his way to living the type of lifestyle he was seeking.

Then Kruse heard about President Jimmy Carter's boycott of the 1980

Moscow Games, and, suddenly, "wow ... I felt maybe I was justified in

making the decision (to retire)."

Kruse, however, has remained in water polo as a television commentator

for NBC Sports during its Olympic coverage. While Kruse might have come

up short in his athletic quest to reach the coveted Summer Games, he has

more than made up for it behind the mike, having covered the last five

Olympic Games (from Los Angeles in 1984 to Sydney in 2000).

Though Kruse often thinks about the Olympic playing opportunity which

never came, his final team, the 1978 U.S. national squad, was one of the

top teams in the world and won a prestigious international event in

Europe, beating world powers like Hungary and the Soviet Union in the

process.

Kruse was the leading scorer on that U.S. team under Coach Monte

Nitzkowski, who coached the squad for 12 years and was succeeded by

Newport Harbor High's Bill Barnett.

"(Barnett) in my opinion does not get the credit he deserves for being

the coach (for eight years)," said Kruse, who covered Barnett's Olympic

silver-medal winning team at the '88 Seoul Games, as well as the '92

Barcelona squad.

"Bill Barnett is the best high school water polo coach there has ever

been. Period. He absolutely schools and drills his kids on fundamentals

like no other coach and has his teams better prepared. He instills a work

ethic and discipline better than any coach and he's not afraid to demand

things from his players ... he's a tough, demanding guy, but it's a tough

love thing.

"And I feel like Newland is the best college coach ever. He takes guys

who are not what you call Division I caliber players coming out of high

school, who maybe don't have as much potential. But he gets them playing

and doesn't have the resources like USC and UCLA.

"Year after year, within an eight-mile (radius), the best one-two

punch in water polo coaching in right there."

When Kruse was living in Newport, he would work out in the pool and

weight room every morning with Newland's team until 1996, when Kruse moved to Cheviot Hills in West Los Angeles.

Kruse, the latest honoree in the Daily Pilot Sports Hall of Fame, is

currently the executive vice president and managing director of Grubb &

Ellis in Los Angeles. He and his wife, Agnes, have two sons: Corbett, 6,

and Cade, 4.

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