Friday Fix: Olson’s lasting impact on UA, Miller: Staying put





A 1989 Associated Press story that reports Lute Olson's interest in Kentucky after coaching his sixth season at Arizona

A 1989 Associated Press story that reports Lute Olson’s interest in Kentucky after coaching his sixth season at Arizona

Arizona is once again the talk of college basketball, 12-0 for the first time in 25 years with a head coach in Sean Miller who was only 19 and removed from Pac-10 and West coast basketball when the Wildcats made their Final Four run in 1987-88. To this day, everybody who follows Arizona basketball thinks Lute Olson’s lasting impact on the Wildcat program is all those conference titles, pro players he developed, the four Final Fours, and, of course, the national championship in 1997. Those are undeniable legendary achievements. One man’s opinion: Olson’s lasting benefit for Arizona is what he did not do: Leave Tucson. Olson had two well-publicized overtures from Kentucky in 1985 and 1989 but decided to stay in Tucson. Arizona basketball was not a dream job when Olson took over in 1983. The Wildcats were mired in mediocrity during Fred Snowden’s waning years in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Ben Lindsey sunk the program to the depths of college basketball in 1982-83 with a 4-24 record the season before Olson arrived.

Lute Olson turned Arizona into one of the most unappealing jobs to one of the top10 in the country

Lute Olson changed Arizona from one of the most unappealing jobs to one of the top 10 in the country

Considering all the annual comings and goings of head coaches in football and basketball, it is a minor miracle that Olson did not leave for greener pastures. By him not leaving, Arizona became a destination and not a stepping stone. Miller, a newcomer to the West when he took over in 2009, spurned an offer from Maryland after only his second year in Tucson. If Olson had left for Kentucky, the Wildcats could have featured two or three permanent head coaches from 1989 to now who used Arizona as a springboard. Xavier (the school Miller left) and Washington State are examples of temporary programs for aspiring big-time coaches. Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Motta and Miller coached in a 24-year span at Xavier before moving on from the Atlantic 10 to a power conference. Miller’s replacement Chris Mack is now in his third season. The Musketeer fans must be leery of Mack moving on someday despite the fact he played for Xavier. … Washington State has featured three coaches since 1983 — George Raveling (Iowa), Kelvin Sampson (Oklahoma) and Tony Bennett (Virginia) — who moved on to better places than Pullman. …

Olson’s extended stay at Arizona was followed by Miller’s permanent hire (following two years of interim staffs led by Kevin O’Neill and Mike Dunlap/Russ Pennell. Miller was 40 at the time of his hire, still young enough with the potential to move on if possible. Olson was 49 when he came to Tucson in 1983, at the crossroads of his career looking for stability after stints with Long Beach State and Iowa. When Larry Smith left Arizona for USC in 1986 after seven years in Tucson, Cedric Dempsey wisely replaced him with 48-year-old Dick Tomey who looked at Arizona as a destination dream job. He remained with the UA for 14 years. Rich Rodriguez was also hired at age 48 in 2011 by Greg Byrne. He too wanted a place to land on his feet after being fired by Michigan. At the time of his hire, Rodriguez was so appreciative that he said he wants to end his career at Arizona …

Sean Miller in his fourth year at Arizona after his hiring in 2009

Sean Miller in his fourth year at Arizona after his hiring in 2009

Smith left Arizona for USC, a program known for its national championships, Rose Bowls and Heiman winners. His increased salary was also a bonus. Similar programs that could entice Miller are Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina. The longer John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams coach at those programs, the longer Miller will stay at Arizona and appreciate more why Olson never left when he had the chance. ESPN.com ranked the top college basketball jobs this year and Arizona ranked No. 10. That would not be the case if Olson left to Kentucky in 1985 or 1989. …

Arizona’s high-profile recruit Rondae Jefferson from Chester, Pa., will have the name plate Hollis-Jefferson when he starts playing for Miller and the Wildcats next season. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this month that his brother — Temple forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson — added Hollis to his jersey as a tribute to their mother’s side of the family. His mother’s name is Rylanda Hollis. The Inquirer article touched on Rondae’s endearing relationship with his grandfather Carl Hollis. The Arizona recruit draws from his grandfather’s teachings to live life as a respectable young man. The story reports that he volunteers after school as a mentor at the Boys & Girls Club. He also cleans the facility. “I just like helping out, being around young people,” Jefferson told the Inquirer. “Doing things people did for us when we were kids, stuff guys like my grandpop did.” … Jefferson will become the third player from Chester to play for the Wildcats. Snowden recruits Herman Harris and Len Gordy come from Chester, which is 19 miles from Philadelphia situated on the Delaware River. Other Chester natives include Tyreke Evans, Jameer Nelson and Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. Chester has a history of a struggling economy, low-ranking schools and a high crime rate. Jefferson’s grandfather, who is 59, is a lifelong Chester resident. It’s not as bad a place as people make it out to be, he told the Inquirer. To survive, he told his grandchildren, they should pick their friends wisely. …

Jefferson might have another high-profile teammate at Arizona next season — San Jose Archbishop Mitty power forward Aaron Gordon. BustingBrackets.com quoted a source Thursday that mentioned Gordon is favoring Arizona over Washington and Kentucky. Evan Williams of BustingBrackets.com quotes his source saying: “He’s followed both teams (Arizona and Washington) loosely over the first two months. And he’s definitely noticed the bigs are featured more at Arizona than they are at Washington. If Arizona’s freshmen continue to grow and the team keeps up its high ranking, it’s hard to see Aaron going anywhere else. Winning is critical to Aaron, and with Arizona becoming the premiere program out West under Sean Miller, they definitely have the edge.” … Gordon, who will sign in the spring, scored 43 points and grabbed 15 rebounds Thursday night to lead Archbishop Mitty over Southridge (Ore.) 80-70 in the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland. He made 20 of his 25 field-goal attempts. He is shown in the above video (wearing No. 32 in the white uniform) produced by The Oregonian. …

Arizona’s coaching staff is scouting Class of 2014 recruiting target Justise Winslow (Houston St. John’s) in the Holiday Classic at San Diego this weekend (shown in the video below). Winslow took an unofficial visit to Arizona for the Red-Blue game in October. He has also taken unofficial visits to Florida and UCLA this fall. Many of the recruiting services rate Winslow as the No. 1 small forward in the nation for the Class of 2014. Scout.com’s assessment of the 6-6,205-pound player: “Winslow has a very advanced skill level for his age. He doesn’t necessarily have a true position, but his talent and athleticism give him the ability to play and guard the one, two and three. He’s a threat to knock down the three and his athleticism makes him tough to stop going to the basket. Winslow’s terrific basketball IQ leads to numerous high level passes per game, and he’s also a very good ball handler for his size.” … Duke, North Carolina and Ohio State are also recruiting Winslow, who could evolve into a one-year-and-done type of player. …

ASU freshman point guard Jahii Carson proclaimed via Twitter on Tuesday night that he is the best Pac-12 player at his position. That’s arguable with players such as Arizona’s Mark Lyons, UCLA’s Larry Drew III and Washington’s Abdul Gaddy manning that position. ESPN.com ranked Carson the No. 3 freshman in the country behind UNLV’s Anthony Bennett and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. Carson averages 17.9 points and 5.3 assists per game against a schedule that ranks 145th in the nation according to the RPI. It is laughable that ESPN.com writer Jeremy Lundblad puts Arizona freshman Brandon Ashley in the “Falling” category among the nation’s freshmen. From a statistical viewpoint, which indicates Ashley’s overall consistency, he is the most productive player on Arizona’s roster to date. A great achievement for a freshman on a 12-0 team ranked No. 3. … For Ashley and fellow freshmen Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski to truly emerge, they will have to play big in a game of high magnitude. They were mostly non-existent in the wins over Florida and San Diego State, although Ashley had nine points and seven rebounds against the Aztecs.

Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner



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