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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Honoring the legend

    Former UA mens basketball head coach Lute Olson instructs his players from the bench during a 92-64 loss to North Carolina in McKale Center on Jan. 27, 2007. Olson will be honored with a video tribute during halftime at tonights game against California.
    Former UA men’s basketball head coach Lute Olson instructs his players from the bench during a 92-64 loss to North Carolina in McKale Center on Jan. 27, 2007. Olson will be honored with a video tribute during halftime at tonight’s game against California.

    Nearly a quarter century’s worth of emotions finally comes to closure.

    That’s what Lute Olson anticipates tonight in McKale Center.

    For the first time since his sudden retirement in October, the Hall-of-Famer will formally acknowledge fans during a special halftime ceremony at tonight’s men’s basketball game against California game, which begins at 8:30 p.m.

    Former players from Olson’s 24-season reign will gather for a video montage, honoring the legend for whom McKale Center’s court is named.ÿ

    Through nearly two-and-a-half decades of work, Olson built Tucson from an insignificant desert city to a college basketball elite power.

    And now, his reign gets official closure.

    “”It’s going to be a very emotional night from my standpoint to be down courtside,”” Olson said in a 40-minute press conference Wednesday, his first since retiring. “”I guess it’s the reality that the time here is done and an opportunity for me to just express very, very briefly my appreciation to the great fans we’ve been blessed with during the time that I’ve been here.

    “”The fact that it will just be a finality to it, that will be very obvious to me,”” Olson added.

    The 74-year-old coach said he expects UA President Robert Shelton, UA athletics director Jim Livengood and ex-Wildcat and current Phoenix Suns General Manager Steve Kerr to join the halftime ceremony, along with other ex-Wildcats Jud Buechler, Joe McLean and Joseph Blair.

    Although there’s already a video montage honoring Olson publicly posted on Arizonaathletics.com, the team’s media relation director, Richard Paige, said a new video will be shown on the JumboTron at the ceremony.

    Even the Zona Zoo plans on joining the festivities by providing students silver spray paint for their hair in honor of Olson’s signature Silver Fox style.

    “”When I came here, he was the sole reason why I came,”” UA wing Chase Budinger said Monday. “”Not just as a coach, but as a person, he’s one of the best. He tries to instill morals and values in you as a person, and also gets you better as a basketball player.

    “”I just look up to him as much as I can,”” Budinger added. “”He’s just one of those meaningful persons that I have in my heart.””

    Olson retired just days after the 2008-09 season’s annual media day in October, when he described himself as re-energized for the upcoming season.

    But one week after assistant Russ Pennell was appointed the interim head coach position, Olson’s doctor Steven Knope announced that Olson had been suffering from effects from a small stroke during the past year.

    Olson said on Wednesday that the decision to step down for the second consecutive season was “”very difficult.””

    Olson, who has attended several games in McKale Center this season, described his new experience from the stands as “”nerve-racking.””

    Olson wasn’t shy about sharing his opinion on some turning points of this season.ÿ

    “”I guess a couple times, the (television) cameras caught me (reacting to plays),”” Olson said. “”After the young man (Aubrey Coleman) at Houston put his treads on Chase (Budinger), I didn’t think that was a very classy move to make.

    “”I was glad I couldn’t reach the officials at Washington on Saturday,”” he added. “”I thought a few of those calls were rather questionable down the stretch.””

    Olson will also be honored into the Pac-10 Hall of Honor at the Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles on March 14.

    To conclude the three-part honoring, the public is invited to join Olson on Aug. 8 in an afternoon ceremony in McKale Center.

    “”I really believe coach Olson, as times goes by, people are going to see exactly what he did here and how special it is,”” said Pennell. “”There needs to be a wing in Springfield, Mass. (at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame) for what he’s done here.””

    Shelton asked Olson to advise coach search

    As the high-profile search for Olson’s successor continues in the UA front offices, Shelton has asked for input from the coach who personally guided his teams to 23 straight NCAA Tournament berths.

    “”Dr. Shelton had asked me if I had be available once they give a list narrowed down, just to sit and talk with him, and I said I’m available anytime you want me to,”” Olson said. “”I told him I’ll be happy to do whatever.””

    Whoever may land the position after the season, Olson said the coach must have good foreign contacts to fill scholarships for next season.

    With Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger expected to leave for the NBA Draft, along with graduating seniors Fendi Onobun and David Bagga, the next head coach will certainly need to fill the obvious void that an empty recruiting class of 2009 leaves.

    “”Get ready to work your butt off,”” Olson said when asked what advice he’d give to Arizona next coach. “”This is a very competitive thing and with the coach coming in at the time he’ll come in, you’re not going to find many kids that are still available.

    “”I hope the fans will be patient with him,”” Olson added. “”There are some kids that surface late every year that nobody hears about. Jordan Hill is one. He’s one that nobody had really heard about until May. That person is going to have to be out there turning over rocks and trying to find somebody that may fit the bill and be ready to work with him.””

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