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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona’s 1988 Final Four team has maintained long-lasting friendship

Larry Hogan / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona’s 1988 Final Four team had a lot going for it — an All-American in Sean Elliott, an elite deep threat and leader in Steve Kerr and depth throughout the roster. But what truly made the team special, and what its members point back to now, 25 years later, was its chemistry.

“Everybody liked each other and you can’t explain it,” said Tom Tolbert who was a senior center during the Final Four season and who went on to play with the Golden State Warriors’ “Run-T.M.C.” teams in the early 1990s. “It’s just a dynamic and you kind of feel it.

“Certainly winning helps, but we loved each other. We had so much fun at practice every day.”

Tolbert said he believes great talent can sometimes overcome poor relationships on the court, but having a special bond between teammates is the key to staying consistently dominant throughout a long and trying season.

“Chemistry keeps things together when things are going poorly,” Tolbert said. “It’s real easy when you’re winning to feel good going to the locker room, be best buddies with your teammates. But when things start going poorly, and you’re maybe not playing as well, and the media’s on you and Coach is on you — it’s easy to see these little fissures in the team and guys pointing fingers.

“Chemistry to me allows things to be kept together and everyone stays together, and everyone realizes what the common goal is.”

At Sunday’s Red-Blue scrimmage, players from the 1988 team brought up how close they were, and still are 25 years later. Family obligations and distance might have gotten in the way at times, but the players said that when they see each other, they’re as close as ever.

“We’ve all talked about the great chemistry [with the 1988 team],” Kerr said to the crowd in McKale Center during halftime of the Red-Blue game. “It meant winning games, it meant all the excitement at McKale, but what it meant more than anything was that we were best friends, even to this day.”

Current head coach Sean Miller said that players’ being able to handle their role is crucial to the team’s success.

When the current group of Wildcats had the opportunity to meet with the 1988 team, Miller said the current players took a big lesson away from the role of forward Jud Buechler.

After graduating from Arizona, Beuchler played 17 seasons in the NBA and won three titles with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. He was named a member of the 1990 All-Pac 10 First Team his senior year and averaged 14.9 points per game and 8.3 rebounds that year.

But during the 1987-1988 season, the sophomore Buechler played just 11 minutes a game, four fewer than his freshman campaign, and averaged just 4.7 points a game.

“During that year, a Final Four year, a player who played in the NBA for more than a decade averaged [four] points,” Miller said. “On this year’s team, if we’re going to reach the pinnacle and reach our goals and be the best we can be — a much better team than a year ago — we certainly are going to have sacrifice.

“When it doesn’t work out as an individual, it’s important they handle it well … This isn’t the place to pout.”

This year’s Wildcats have the ability, and aspirations, to reach the same level as coach Lute Olson’s first-ever Final Four team, assuming the deep roster can fall into place and fulfill its spot.

“Part of being a great team, you got to check your ego at the door and play your role,” Elliott said. “And if they do that, they could very well be back here [in McKale Center] 25 years from now.”

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