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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Lute Olson and Sean Miller are similar

For those who did not know, Monday was the birthday of legendary Arizona men’s basketball coach Lute Olson. The all-time winningest coach in program history celebrated his 80th birthday as Arizona fans everywhere wished him well.

Olson started his Arizona coaching career in the 1983-84 season and won over 20 games in just his second season. By the late 1980s, Olson led the Wildcats to a 35-3 record and established Arizona as a college basketball powerhouse.

Despite having the opportunity to leave Arizona multiple times for marquee programs like Kentucky, Olson chose to stay, and his lasting memory is largely based on that. Specifically, Kentucky tried to pry Olson away in both 1985 and 1989.

Olson passed up on potentially career-altering jobs to stay and changed the entire landscape of the program. There wouldn’t be a 1997 NCAA Championship title or countless NBA stars coming from the program, or even Sean Miller, without Olson.

Speaking of Miller — who’s entering his sixth year at Arizona — there’s a chance that he could follow much of the same career path that Olson took.

In 2011, amid the retirement of longtime Maryland head coach Gary Williams, Maryland attempted to pry Miller away from Arizona. He had only been at Arizona for two years but Miller had just led the team to the Elite Eight.

Olson’s first Kentucky encounter came right after his second season at Arizona and Kentucky came calling again after his sixth year with the Wildcats. Likewise, Maryland came calling for Miller after his second season at Arizona.

The scenarios between Miller and Olson are eerily similar.

With all of Miller’s recent on and off the court success, high-level programs around the country are bound to inquire about his interest in leaving Arizona; almost identically to what Olson went through.

Miller has won more games (129) through his first five seasons than Olson did in the same span (108) and, when it’s all said and done, could have a similar legacy to Olson if he stays at Arizona.

Olson quickly became an institution and put the Wildcats on the same level as traditional powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky. In many ways, Miller has done the same thing.

The program was in shambles when Olson retired in 2007 and, as a native Tucsonan, the next two years were tough to watch. Among other things, Arizona’s streak of 25 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances ended, and UA fans were subjected to mediocrity — something that was wasn’t a thing under Olson.

That was until Miller arrived before the 2009-10 season and changed everything. His recruiting prowess was immediately evident, as his first recruiting class included Derrick Williams, Lamont Jones and Solomon Hill, also known as the trio that led Arizona to an Elite Eight appearance in Miller’s second year.

From there, Miller’s recruiting has taken college basketball by storm and puts him near Kentucky’s John Calipari and Kansas’ Bill Self as a top-level recruiter in the collegiate ranks. Miller has put together four consecutive top-10 recruiting classes according to ESPN.

Recruiting prowess was also one of Olson’s calling cards. Among those whom Olson recruited were Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott, Damon Stoudamire, Sean Rooks and Reggie Geary.

For those who don’t know, these are some of the greatest players in Arizona history and were recruited all before the 1997 championship team and beyond. The NBA-level talent only increased from that point on.

Having two coaches on similar paths like Olson and Miller is a huge reason why Arizona basketball is as prominent as it is now. If Miller stays like Olson stayed, this success will continue for years to come.

As the saying goes: Arizona basketball never stops.

Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter @HouseofPayne555

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