UA un­veils Lute Ol­son statue

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Bruce Pas­coe

TUC­SON — In the months and years ahead – for­ever, re­ally – bas­ket­ball fans can stroll past, gather around, and take pho­tos with the Lute Ol­son statue that now stands on the pav­il­ion out­side McKale Cen­ter's north en­trance. When they do, Ari­zona AD Dave Heeke said he en­vi­sions them shar­ing good me­mories about the Hall of Fame for­mer UA coach. “That’s what it’s all about,” Heeke said. “It’s a sym­bol right there at the front door. Thurs­day af­ter­noon, dur­ing and af­ter a cer­e­mony to un­veil the $300,000 art­work, dozens of for­mer Ol­son-era players, staffers and donors gath­ered around to get a head start on that mis­sion.

Be­fore Ol­son’s bronze like­ness was un­veiled – and, yes, Ol­son said that de­sign­ers “got the hair right” – they spoke of his at­ten­tion to de­tail, work ethic, and de­ter­mi­na­tion to help his players grow on and off the court more than they did about the four Fi­nal Fours or the 1997 na­tional ti­tle he won.

That didn’t mean it was al­ways fun to be around Ol­son at the time.

A fresh­man al­ready un­happy with his play­ing time in 1992-93, for­mer UA for­ward Corey Wil­liams said he went up for a re­bound and crashed to the floor af­ter team­mate Et­drick Bo­han­non hit him in the eye in a prac­tice shortly be­fore the 1993 NCAA Tour­na­ment.

“I thought my face was bro­ken,” Wil­liams said. “I’m rolling on the ground, hold­ing my eye and guys are crowd­ing around me.

“Then I see coach. He looks up and says, 'OK guys, we’re go­ing to move the drill over here,’ and he stepped over me.”

Mo­men­tar­ily, Wil­liams’ un­hap­pi­ness soared.

“I took it per­son­ally, like, 'This dude is crazy.’" Wil­liams said. “But ev­ery­body else, their re­ac­tion was, 'That’s what we al­ways do.’ It wasn’t that he didn’t care. It was that we only had two hours to prac­tice, so let’s stay fo­cused. Let’s not get dis­tracted.”

By the end of prac­tice, of course, Wil­liams re­al­ized Ol­son did care about him, get­ting with train­ers and ask­ing Wil­liams how he was do­ing.

Wil­liams be­came grate­ful for his tri­als four years later, when he started play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally in Europe.

“I wanted to trans­fer so bad my fresh­man year, but I’m glad I stayed,” he said.

Ol­son didn't mind tak­ing a few hard knocks him­self, ei­ther, if that sent the mes­sage through.

While speak­ing dur­ing Thurs­day’s cer­e­mony, for­mer UA guard Matt Muehle­bach re­layed a story about how Ol­son jumped head-first into a coaches' demon­stra­tion of a screen-and-roll play — then claimed he picked up a foul af­ter run­ning into then-as­sis­tant Ricky Byrd­song.

“Lute was there to hedge on the screen and Lute went down,” Muehle­bach said. “All of the players are are look­ing around like, 'What’s go­ing on?’ And the first thing Lute said when he hit the floor was, 'Charge!’"

Ol­son could be just as de­mand­ing off the court, try­ing to mold his players into adults in the same man­ner that he was mold­ing them into pro­fes­sional players.


The new statue of for­mer Univer­sity of Ari­zona head coach Lute Ol­son stands at the Ed­die Lynch Pav­il­ion at McKale Cen­ter on Thurs­day with a photo of Miles Si­mon from the team’s 1997 cham­pi­onship run.

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