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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Saint Mary’s Randy Bennett adopted Lute Olson’s coaching style

Simon Asher

St. Mary’s head coach Randy Bennet shouts to his team during the St. Mary’s – VCU game on Thursday, March 16. 

SALT LAKE CITY — Believe it or not at one point in time, ASU was superior to Arizona in men’s basketball. Let that sink in for a moment.

Arizona has produced 27 more NBA draft picks, been to 20 more NCAA Tournaments and the Sun Devils haven’t been to a Sweet 16 since Tupac Shakur was alive (1995). Yet, here we are talking about how ASU was the older brother to the Arizona Wildcats on the hardwood.

Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett is originally from Mesa, Arizona and played at Mesa Community College under his father from 1980-1982 and then transferred to UC San Diego in 1983. From afar, Bennett saw the brief success of former UA head coach Fred Snowden who led the Wildcats to an Elite Eight appearance in 1976, but also the program at rock bottom.

“I was just thinking about that today, I was around for Snowden’s days growing up. They were actually pretty good then and then they declined,” Bennett said.

Bennett was a close friend with Brock Brunkhorst who was a part of Snowden’s last recruiting class as a point guard. Snowden resigned after Brunkhorst’s freshman season and played under Ben Lindsey for one season after getting fired for finishing the 1992 season 4-24.

If Arizona had four wins going into December let alone an entire season, Tucson would be in shambles, but that’s when the legend with white hair came about in Robert Luther Olson or around college basketball, they just called him Lute.

“Every year they got better. Lute’s first year they struggled and then they started putting it together,” Bennett said.

Bennett studied Olson’s success story to turn a program that was in the cellar of west coast basketball and an after thought to football into a program where basketball was the greatest five to six month stretch in Tucson.

Similar to Olson, Bennett only went 9-20 in his first season at the helm in 2001, but over the course of a few years, he gained traction. After four seasons, the Gaels went to the NCAA Tournament and became known as the mid-major that could compete as one of the best in college basketball.

“As a coach, as a young coach, when I was coming up, you start studying those, how did they get good? How did Arizona happen? Because when I was in high school Arizona State was ahead of Arizona,” Bennett said. “And then it changed and it’s never really changed back.”

Bennett added,

“So in Tucson, Arizona, basketball was a big deal, but you didn’t know. And then once it happened everybody is like, ‘oh, yeah, Arizona basketball, they’re the top ten in the country.’ They weren’t back then.”

SMC is in Moraga, California and has an estimated population of 17,000 people so the buzz around the program isn’t as intense as Arizona, but Bennett wants to turn McKeon Pavilion into the mini McKale Center.

“To see that happen, you learn from it, you study it and it’s cool for a community like Tucson. It’s become such a huge part of that city,” Bennett said. 

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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