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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Olson returns to helm

    UA mens basketball head coach Lute Olson addresses the media Tuesday in McKale Center. Olson enters his 25th season as the Wildcats head coach after taking last season off for personal reasons.
    UA men’s basketball head coach Lute Olson addresses the media Tuesday in McKale Center. Olson enters his 25th season as the Wildcats’ head coach after taking last season off for personal reasons.

    The first glimpse at the 2008-09 Arizona men’s basketball team provides a clear-cut story line: Hall-of-Fame head coach Lute Olson is back in charge.

    “”When he has something to say, everybody listens,”” said junior Chase Budinger.

    The forward Budinger and his teammates seemed comfortable seeing their 74-year-old head coach back in action at Tuesday’s media day, ready to return his program to its past “”Arizona Basketball”” tradition.

    But collateral comfort from Olson isn’t as obvious yet.

    When asked at his press conference of the season if he was anxious to get into an in-game scenario with his current team, Olson smiled.

    “”Not yet,”” he said. “”That’s an exciting part of it. But the game really just displays what you’ve done in a practice situation. They learn in practice; they display what they learned in game situations.””

    Less than three weeks away from the Wildcats’ first exhibition game, Olson returns three definite starters – juniors Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise – followed by a slew of question marks entering the season.

    Olson made it no secret that the Wildcats needed more practice time to develop eight underclassmen.

    Of the five freshmen, forward Jeff Withey and guard Brendon Lavender appear to bring the most potential as the two better-known recruits, in comparison to late spring signees Kyle Fogg, Garland Judkins and D.J. Shumpert.

    Redshirt freshman Alex Jacobson and sophomores Jamelle Horne and Zane Johnson have also yet to spend a season under Olson – all of whom will factor into the unclear rotation.

    Olson and his brand new staff have undertaken the “”very difficult”” task of developing true freshmen and unproven underclassmen into starting roles at the college level.

    “”It’s always difficult for freshmen and this year is no different,”” Olson said in a raspy voice, citing the start to practice season. “”One of the biggest challenges – there’s so many freshmen that the competition against the upperclassmen is not generally what we’re accustomed to. That has certainly been a challenge in a lot of different ways.””

    Olson addressed the media for about 40 minutes Tuesday afternoon – the first official time since April 1, when a combative Olson frequently lashed back at reporters’ questions about his season-long leave of absence.

    When asked how much he missed sessions with the media on Tuesday, Olson regretted his uncharacteristic behavior from last spring.

    “”I wish I had that hour back,”” Olson said. “”I don’t know, 26 years on the job, I don’t think there’s been a case where the media sessions have been other than very good sessions.

    “”That came under difficult circumstances away from the (press) conference. I guess once every 26 years you have the right to be other than what you should be,”” he added.

    Olson returns this season with an entirely new coaching staff, after former assistant Josh Pastner left for an assistant position at Memphis and Miles Simon’s contract was not renewed. Last season’s interim head coach, Kevin O’Neill, also left for an assistant position at the NBA level with the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Olson hired assistants Mike Dunlap, a Denver Nuggets assistant, Russ Pennell, an ASU program director, and Reggie Geary, a retired NBA player and former Wildcat.

    Said senior guard David Bagga of Olson’s return: “”It’s unbelievable. It’s very positive, very upbeat. Everyone’s happy, everyone’s having fun and that’s very important. Besides being a hall-of-fame coach, he’s just a class-act human being.””

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