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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Expect the unexpected

    Following all the uncertainties lingering from last season’s bizarre drama in McKale Center, one thing remained clear this autumn: the 2007-2008 season would not repeat itself. So much for that.

    Forget everything you knew or expected from the Arizona basketball program – it’s become enough of a dramatized soap opera to make Brett Favre crack a smirk.

    Lute Olson’s questionable status as Arizona’s head coach buzzed through the entire nation beginning at 9 a.m. local time Thursday. ESPN’s Dick Vitale – not exactly the network’s most prestigious journalist – broke the story, citing a “”reliable source,”” who could’ve been a Cameron Crazie for all anybody knew.

    The only thing more ridiculous than Vitale breaking a news story of this magnitude was the fact that, just two days ago, Olson addressed the media and described this season’s endeavor as a far better start than last year.

    “”I think I would say I’m happy,”” Olson said at Tuesday’s annual media day. “”The difference is, last year is last year. I feel much more energized at this point.””

    Interviews with players followed up Olson’s press conference, all showing mutual respect for the 74-year-old Hall of Famer.

    “”It’s huge having coach back – it’s kind of like a blessing,”” said junior forward Chase Budinger. “”Everybody respects him. When he has something to say, everyone listens.””

    At the conclusion of Tuesday’s men’s basketball media day, one thing was certain: That whole once-in-26-years leave of absence ordeal wasn’t going to happen again.

    So much for that.

    Less than 48 hours later, the eerie feeling of betrayal from last season returned.

    Throughout Thursday afternoon, Arizona Athletics media relations vigorously denied all reports from the major network outlets, despite a steady trickle of recruits and Wildcats’ parents confirming the unconfirmed.

    The feeling of déjÇÿ vu could only lead players and fans to one horrific assumption: Welcome to the post-Lute Era – not that it needed any introduction.

    Following the most dramatic season in school history – interim head coach Kevin O’Niell took the reins during Olson’s messy divorce – this year’s 2008-2009 campaign was bound to begin right where it left off.

    As if the madness ever actually ended.

    Then at 5 p.m., inevitable assumptions became bizarre realities.

    “”This has been a long day for everybody,”” said UA athletics director Jim Livengood at the beginning of his press conference Thursday.

    Indeed, eight hours of speculation and scrambling around was about to end. Reporters received e-mails on their BlackBerry cell phones with the official notice:

    “”Hall of Fame Basketball Coach Lute Olson Announces He Will Retire.””

    Below that headline read the date: Oct. 23, 2008, which happens to be less than three weeks before Arizona’s first exhibition game of the season.

    The harsh reality is set in stone:

    “”Today, as I mentioned, really is about the past, and certainly current right now,”” Livengood said. “”Starting (Friday) will be about the future.””

    At that point, all questions became irrelevant. Suddenly, the focus wasn’t about the program’s long-term future, but reflecting on the present day status – unlike last year’s always-hungry-for-the-future scenarios.

    Livengood certainly wasn’t going to mistakenly rush the decision to name Olson’s successor (again).

    Let the big white board of names take its toll through a national search. Right now, the last thing this program needs is to prematurely react with a Band-Aid just to save face.

    Sure, the class of 2009 will probably diminish into a few three-star prospects. But thinking long-term, it’s absolutely necessary to conduct a national search for a quality program successor.

    “”I do not have a decision at this time, as who’s going to head our men’s basketball program,”” Livengood said.

    You’d better not. Nobody should expect an overnight successor to emerge.

    Then again, what expectations have actually followed through?

    At least we may know one thing not in Olson’s future: One person called the Daily Wildcat and falsely claimed that ESPN was in negotiations with Olson to become a studio analyst.

    But then again, you can’t rule anything out these days.

    – Bryan Roy is a journalism sophomore.
    Reach him at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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