Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the Lute Olson era or a new supporter of Sean Miller, this is the ultimate resource guide for true fans of the Arizona Wildcats. Authors Steve Rivera and Anthony Gimino have collected every essential piece of Wildcats knowledge and trivia—from how many players the Wildcats have had selected in the NBA draft, the program’s longest-tenured coach, and the former players who have had their numbers retired—and pair it with must-do activities, and rank them all, from one to 100. Providing an entertaining and easy-to-follow checklist for diehard fans, these are the 100 things all Wildcat supporters need to know and do in their lifetime.
About the Author
Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as a football beat reporter for the Arizona Daily Star and the sports columnist at the Tucson Citizen. He is a senior editor for Lindy's College Football Annuals and contributes to FoxSportsArizona.com among several other media outlets. Steve Rivera is a longtime sports writer who covered the University of Arizona basketball team for more than 20 years for the Tucson Citizen. He is the author of The Arizona Basketball Vault, The Arizona National Championship Book, Tales from the Arizona Hardwood, and Tales from the Arizona Locker Room and he has contributed to Basketball Times, SI.com, and numerous sports magazines. Lute Olson was the head coach of the University of Arizona men's basketball team for 25 years where he won a NCAA Championship in 1997. They all live in Tucson, Arizona.
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100 Things Arizona Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Steve Rivera, Anthony Gimino
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Steve Rivera and Anthony Gimino
All rights reserved.
Olson: The Program Builder
What would have occurred had Iowa defeated Villanova on that March day back in 1983? "I don't think I would have [taken the Arizona job]," said Lute Olson, then the ever-popular Iowa coach who had led his team to the Final Four just three years earlier. For Arizona, it was the best thing that ever happened. It started a chain reaction in the hiring of Olson in what would later turn into a quarter century of success that has become Arizona basketball. Today, Arizona is one of the best programs in the country.
After UA fell to Villanova in the Elite Eight in the tournament, then–UA athletic director Cedric Dempsey sauntered up to Olson to inquire about UA's opening at head coach. "Gee, Cedric," Olson told Dempsey after the loss, "this isn't a great time right now. Why don't you give me a call tomorrow?" So Dempsey, Arizona's athletic director for less than a year, waited. He had his man ... but he needed to be patient.
A day later, it became a family affair with the Olson family meeting Dempsey in his hotel room. Soon after, Lute and Bobbi, his longtime wife, jumped on a private plane and headed to Tucson.
It had been a year earlier — when Arizona was looking to replace Fred Snowden — that UA had first inquired about hiring Olson. But Olson declined after he had spent time fund-raising for a new arena for Iowa, a team that was rolling with talent and had a bright future. Months earlier, USC had inquired about his availability. Stanford, Washington, and Cal had asked, too. But he turned them all down.
How was Arizona going to lure Olson, who in essence had a lifetime contract at Iowa, to move to Arizona, and a program that could only offer year-to-year contracts? The coach had 24 hours. Time was of the essence in part because Dempsey already had his backup ready. (It was Gene Bartow, the former UCLA head coach. And he, too, was in the hotel.)
Iowa wanted him to stay, but the Olsons' hearts eventually tipped the scales. "I think both of us were ready to move," Olson writes in his book Lute! The Story of My Life. "It was everything, the lack of privacy, being with family, returning to the West and from a recruiting standpoint I still had strong contacts in California."
And with that, Olson called Dempsey to say he'd come to Arizona. He was leaving a program that had a chance to win a national title for a program that was in disarray. It was challenge over (potential) championship, as the New York Times put it. "Some people thought I had lost my mind," Olson writes in his book.
Arizona fans were elated. On March 29, 1983, Olson signed his contract, eventually encouraging Arizona fans to get their season tickets immediately, since down the road it'd be too late. "I feel the potential is here at Arizona," Olson said in taking over a program that went 4–24 overall and 1–17 in the Pac-10 Conference. And with those words, his legacy at Arizona began.
"My hope here at Arizona back then was — knowing we couldn't recruit much locally and there was a lot to do — was to build a consistent program," Olson said, looking back. "I didn't think what has happened would happen. If we could just be fairly consistent and compete, maybe every once in a while have a special team we'd be OK. You thought that maybe it would be a middle-of-the-road conference team, looking at the other schools [with] an advantage over us." Yet in time, it was Arizona's advantage — because of Olson.
"In Lute's quarter of a century at UA, he developed a top-10 national basketball program that was consistently competitive," Dempsey said in the summer of 2014. "He was able to build a program with quality young people with integrity."
At the time of Olson's hire he was 48. Arizona's future looked bright — all because of its suave and debonair coach. In fact, Steve Kerr — years later and perhaps the only person who could ever chide Olson — said Olson looked the same a couple of decades later as he did in the mid-1980s. (By which, of course, Kerr jokingly meant he looked old then, too.)
Of course, that virtue helped in coaching. Former UA player Brock Brunkhorst had been so impressed with Olson — after serving a season with Lindsey — he said playing for Olson was like playing "for your grandfather." After all, the last thing you want to do is "disappoint your grandfather." Matt Muehlebach said playing for Olson was like playing for the "classic dad, and you never want to disappoint him."
So, Arizona players played hard, steady, and with fundamentals. "There was never a time I really thought Lute got frustrated with the situation," said former assistant Scott Thompson, who left Iowa to join Olson at UA. "There were times I saw him raise his eyebrows in almost a humorous chuckle in a we-have-a-lot-of-work-to-do kind of way." And they got after it. Every practice had a purpose.
"The thing about Coach Olson," UA star Sean Elliott said, "was that he would remember everything. Everything. We'd go in at halftime and he'd talk about plays and situations and they'd be exact. Coach is smart."
Said Muehlebach, "He valued fundamentals a ton. If you went to our practice, the first 45 minutes it was a practice out of the movie Hoosiers. But the next 45 would be like we're the [UNLV] Runnin' Rebels. The last four or five minutes it was go out and incorporate what you just learned and make it a game-like situation."
Olson became a coach famous for focusing on the details. "Lute was one of the first guys who would map out an entire season or practice," Muehlebach said. "Every minute was planned out. He's been one of the more efficient people I've met."
No surprise, then, that Lute became a household name in southern Arizona. In fact, he was bigger than life as far as basketball was concerned. Heck, many fans thought he could walk on water. Eventually, there were bobblehead dolls, Lute Lids (replicas of his hair), a Tonight Show appearance, and Nike junkets to coach overseas. Then there was the world championship in 1986. All of them the rewards of success.
In his second year, the Wildcats tied for third in the Pac-10 and made it to the NCAA Tournament. In his third year, Arizona won its first conference title.
"Lute was a success right from the beginning, but when things really took off was when he started beating the likes of the Michigans and Iowas and Dukes and UNLVs," former UA coach Bruce Larson said in Fire in the Desert. "That was a whole new ballgame ..."
It was all ramped up in 1988 when — then in his fifth season — UA went to its first Final Four. It was unheard-of territory for dusty Tucson. "That 1988 team, with all the talent we had in going to the Final Four, I personally believe that was the best team to come through there to this point," said former UA player Jud Buechler, a member of that team. "I feel [we were] even better than the one that won the national championship. Just look at the talent." Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott, Tom Tolbert, Buechler, Kenny Lofton, Craig McMillan and the rest. It was a joyride to a 35–3 record, Arizona's all-time best in the modern era. "More importantly," Buechler said, "it was the team that started the basketball craze at UA. From that point on it changed from being a football school to all of a sudden being a basketball school. I'm proud to be part of that team."
Credit Olson for building it. If Fred Snowden was the man who benefitted from McKale Center being built in the early 1970s, it was Olson who set the foundation for the program's success. He wanted to not just build a team, he'd say, but to build a program. And for years, Arizona was the team to beat in the Pac-10, taking over the throne from UCLA in the late 1980s through the 2000s. He led UA to 11 Pac-10 titles, four Final Fours, a national-runner-up finish (2001), and a national title, in 1997.
"Once we got the recruits like Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr and others we could do things like that," Olson said. "What we did was we got people excited about the Cats. People couldn't get tickets, and that helped in recruiting because we'd tell them they were never going to play in front of an empty seat in McKale Center. That's what they want to hear."
It was that potential that brought players such as Buechler to Arizona. And it was Olson's ability to turn players ordinary and superb into NBA picks. He had 31 go on to the pros during his tenure at Arizona and he coached 19 All-Americans during that span. He had 20 consecutive 20-win seasons, averaging just more than 25 wins a season. He is one of just three head coaches in NCAA history to have 29 or more 20-win seasons.
Richard Jefferson, in a tribute to the coach, reminded everyone that Olson went "to the Final Four the year I was born ." How's that for perspective? Jefferson said Olson helped him grow into a man, making him accountable for all he did. Heck, one night in Las Vegas, Jefferson was even sent home after being caught messing around in a hotel hallway. "He speaks to you as a man and expects the same in return," Jefferson wrote. "It makes the growing-up process so much easier."
The same could be said for on the court, too. "He teaches you how to give up yourself so you are not so self-centered and he makes you understand that it's all about team," Jefferson wrote. "He makes that transition so easy. I think there are a lot of coaches that are very similar to him in the sense that they give an opportunity. Coach O gives you the tools to be successful. Whether or not you decide to use them is up to you."
Muehlebach described his time at UA as "the best four years of my life." Others have said the same. The magic and the memories — and, of course, the winning — helped all that. "He's the reason why I went to Arizona," said Buechler, who visited UCLA, California, Pepperdine, and Santa Barbara. "My last visit was UA. He's the reason why I went. I thought I'd be able to develop under him. I saw him as this father figure. For all of us, he's the one who took us in and developed us. The fundamentals I learned from him 100 percent paid off after playing for the University of Arizona."
Again, everything came down to fundamentals and good players. "It was great working with Coach O," said former assistant Phil Johnson, who left to coach at San Jose State and is now an assistant at the University of Texas at El Paso. "He expected us all to recruit great players that were good people and then get them better. Our teams were always very determined to win, and that's a reflection on Lute. One thing I really noticed when I first got to Arizona was how good the practices were the day after we lost a game. Coach O, the players, really everyone wasn't going to stand for losing!"
And that hard work was how the players got better. Of course, not every day or game was easy. Players who want to get better know that. "Lute was a great challenge! He pushed us every day to get better," said Matt Othick. "He would take your weaknesses and build them into strengths. He was a superior basketball coach. He was a winner who prepared you for a game better than anyone. When you walked on the floor you always felt like you were going to win."
In the end, his age — and health — created problems. In 2005 he was 69 and would have been — at the time — the oldest coach to guide a team to the Final Four. He was just moments away, a shot away after Illinois beat UA, 90–89, in overtime. Three years later, he abruptly announced his retirement in 2008 after a tumultuous year of health and eventual NCAA issues.
Olson feels he could have coached longer. "If I had not had the stroke where I was told by my doctor to get out of coaching and that kind of pressure," he said. "Before the stroke I figured I had a chance to coach into my seventies. My health had been good. I enjoyed working with the kids."
After coaching, Olson is still around and seemingly busier than ever, attending games and events to help UA and its alumni group. Invariably, the players continue to rave about him. If he's not at a wedding for one of his players (he was at Luke Walton's recently) or a fishing trip (with Craig McMillan and others) or a roast in his honor (Tom Tolbert was a recent guest speaker), he's around. Olson is seemingly everywhere.
"There are not enough words, paragraphs, or pages to tell you what Coach Olson means to me," said former player and current Memphis coach Josh Pastner. "I wouldn't be where I am today if it were not for him." Simply put, his former players love him.
"That makes me feel great," Olson said. "I feel the same way toward them."
Visit The Naismith Hall Of Fame
Being an Arizona basketball fan means rubbing elbows with many of the best teams, players, and coaches in the country — and it's been that way for generations. Taking that one step further, being the best fans in the Pac-12 should also mean being the most knowledgeable fans in the Pac-12 and among the keenest in the country. That's why there is a lot more to do — and learn — at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, than just to say hi to the plaque of Robert Luther Olson.
But since we are talking about Lute ... He was inducted in 2002 with an all-star cast including Earvin "Magic" Johnson, the Harlem Globetrotters, Larry Brown, Drazen Petrovic, and women's coach Sandra Kay Yow.
Olson said he thought he was going to get into the Hall in 2001, when he led the Wildcats to the national championship game just a few months after the death of his wife, Bobbi. "[The Hall] took so much static from the media around the country — how can you not include Coach when he's had five teams to the Final Four? — and then it sort of hit me by surprise in 2002," Olson said. "I was really disappointed in 2001, because that was the year that Bobbi had passed and I felt that would have been the right time."
Still, it was an honor. Legendary coach Pete Newell introduced Olson in the 2002 induction ceremonies. Newell noted that Olson, in addition to his college success at Iowa and Arizona, had vast success in leading all-star teams overseas. One of the great accomplishments of Olson's career was directing the 1986 United States team to a surprise gold medal in the 1986 FIBA World Championships. Team USA has won only four of 16 World Championships through 2010, and Olson's championship was the only victory of that bunch to feature collegiate players.
For many years, Olson kept the gold medal on display in his office at McKale Center. "It's really a source of pride for anyone on that team or anyone on that coaching staff," Olson said in 2008. "At the time, it didn't seem like that big of a deal, but as it's gone on, why, it's a tremendous accomplishment."
The U.S. team featured Arizona's Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr (who suffered a knee injury in the semifinal game that would force him to miss the 1986–87 college season), as well as Navy seven-footer David Robinson, Syracuse forward Rony Seikaly, and North Carolina guard Kenny Smith, who scored 23 points in an 87–85 win over the Soviet Union in the championship game.
Excerpted from 100 Things Arizona Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Steve Rivera, Anthony Gimino. Copyright © 2014 Steve Rivera and Anthony Gimino. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Lute Olson,
1. Olson: The Program Builder,
2. National Championship,
3. Sean Elliott: UA's Best,
4. Sean Miller: UA's Savior,
5. NCAA Runners-up,
6. 1988 Final Four Team,
7. 1994 Final Four: Stoudamire, Reeves Shine,
8. Steeeeeeeeeve Kerrrrrrrr,
9. Damon Stoudamire: Mighty Mouse,
10. Simon Says Championship,
11. Arizona vs. Duke,
12. Khalid Reeves: When On, Watch Out,
13. Fred Snowden,
14. Cedric Dempsey,
15. Fred Enke Sr.,
16. Bob Elliott: Big Bird Rises,
17. Pop McKale: If It Weren't for Him,
18. John P. Schaefer,
19. Jason Terry,
20. Nick Johnson: The Prime Recruit,
21. Pete Williams: The Cornerstone,
22. Illinois Collapse,
23. Jason Gardner: Arizona's Mr. Iron Man,
24. Eric Money,
25. Hadie Redd: UA's First African American Player,
25. Hadie Redd: UA's First African American Player,
27. The Udalls: Politics and Basketball,
28. Aaron Gordon Seeks Perfection,
29. Kenny Lofton,
30. Mike Bibby: The Ultimate Point Guard,
31. Gilbert Arenas: The Goofball,
32. McKale Center,
33. 1998 Team: No Repeat Championship,
34. Bobbi Olson,
35. Coniel Norman,
36. Ernie McCray: Record Breaker,
37. Richard Jefferson,
38. Roger Johnson: The Guy Could Play,
39. Brian Williams: The Enigma,
40. Bruce Larson,
41. Jud Buechler: Jack of All Trades,
42. George Kalil: UA's Super Fan,
43. Joe Skaisgir: Two-Year Wonder,
44. Arizona vs. UNLV,
45. Derrick Williams,
46. Craig McMillan: The First McDonald's All-American,
47. NCAA Tournament Appearances,
48. Ooh Aah Man,
49. Bear Down Gym,
50. Matt Muehlebach: Mr. Triple-Double,
51. Salim Stoudamire: The Moody Sharpshooter,
52. Ben Lindsey,
53. The Gumbys,
54. Al Fleming,
55. Warren Rustand: The Perfect Leader,
56. Jerryd Bayless,
57. Jim Rosborough,
58. Luke Walton: Living the Good Life,
59. Lute vs. the "Daily Star",
60. Michael Dickerson,
61. Arizona vs. Arizona State,
62. Solomon Hill: Patience Pays Off,
63. Arizona vs. New Mexico,
64. Kiddie Korps,
65. Jordan Hill: A Raw Talent,
66. Chase Budinger: From Volleyball to Basketball,
67. Channing Frye: Mr. Improvement,
68. Brian Jeffries,
69. Wildcats in the NBA,
70. Gene Edgerson,
71. Gotta Watch Olson-Frieder,
72. Kevin O'Neill,
73. Jim Livengood,
74. Kevin Parrom, Never Quit,
75. Joseph Blair,
76. Russell Brown: Assists 'R' Him,
77. Lincoln Richmond,
78. Players UA Loves to Hate,
79. Chris Mills,
80. Learn the Traditions,
81. Loren Woods,
82. Harvey Mason,
83. Eddie Smith,
84. George Rountree: A Different Breed of Cat,
85. Bennett Davison,
86. Joe Turner: Mr. Happy,
87. Jawann McClellan: Tough Career, Tough Person,
88. Attend the Pac-12 Tournament in Vegas, Baby,
89. He Touched the Ball,
91. Anthony Cook,
92. Two-Sport Players,
93. Ricky Anderson: The Ultimate Practice Guy,
94. Spit Into a River,
95. A.J. Bramlett,
96. Jim Rappis: The Bionic Man,
97. Reggie Geary: The Defender,
98. Walk-ons and Unknown Stars,
99. Bill Reeves,
100. Michael Tait: He's Gone,