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Posts Tagged ‘Lute Olson’

Future of the Program: Part II

Posted by naterb on February 12, 2009

Recruiting

 

Despite the fact that Arizona is currently on a 5-game winning streak, I’m still taking a break from focusing on the current season to looking ahead to the intriguing possibilities that will play out during the off-season. Last week I talked about the fact that whoever Olson’s successor is, they will need to possess a program first mentality. Otherwise more than just the style of play will be transformed at Arizona.

 

 Under Lute Olson, the program has been a family organization with the focus on the players’ development and the program’s success. Olson avoided recruiting players who were out to serve their own needs, and who were going along with their own agenda before the programs. The result has been a classy program that has thrived at the top of the conference for nearly 25 years thanks to Olson’s savvy recruiting combined with only taking players who are there to play for the program.

 

If a coach fails to integrate the “team first” mentality into his recruiting, I fear that Arizona will no longer be the dominant program it has been, but will transform into an average program similar to ASU or USC. A program with more average years than down years, and more down years than great years. For that reason, I believe the second most important facet of a new coach will be their recruiting.

 

How and who the new coach recruits will be an early indicator about the long-term outlook for the program. When a coach strictly focuses on recruiting the top tier prospects, the program becomes a mere stepping stone for the NBA – as USC has become. The play of these top-tier recruits almost ensures that the team will be competitive within their conference, and perhaps even on a national level, but landing a top tier recruit and building a team around them year-in and year-out is a sure ticket towards inconsistency.

 

That isn’t to say that signing the big-name recruit doesn’t have its place – they certainly have their impact and place within the scheme of the program. Afterall, if a coach strictly recruited mid-level prospects, they would find themselves in a position like Washington State – too heavily reliant upon exploiting opponents’ mistakes. 

 

Successful recruiting is a mix of mid-level talent and top-tier prospects.

Successful recruiting is a mix of mid-level talent and top-tier prospects.

Clearly the better recruiters in the nation have found a solid mix of top-tier and middle-tier players which has led to perpetual success with no “rebuilding” years like the one Oregon is currently suffering through. This mix of mid-level and top tier recruits is an absolute must-have to building a consistent, competitive team – a tradition at Arizona that I hope to see continued. Finding the appropriate mix has more to do with the needs of the team and the personality of the players than it does how many of the top tier vs. middle-tier players which are recruited.

 

 

 

I, for one, firmly believe that the most vital aspect of recruiting is finding the mid-level players with a lot of potential or that have been undervalued. Some of the more notable players at Arizona – Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Gilbert Arenas, and Jordan Hill – have come from this group of prospects. There have also been solid role players – A.J. Bramlett, Bennett Davison to name two of the more prominent ones – that simply got the job done and made an impact for the team.

 

By focusing on these mid-level prospects the coach will have recruited at the worst a solid bench and group of role players, and at the best a few surprise players who develop into future stars. Best-case scenario and worst-case scenario aside one thing is certain, drawing out the best talent in the middle tier of prospects while signing a top tier recruit or two every few years will lead to consistency within the program.

 

In direct regards to the situation at Arizona, the right coach will be capable of staving off a rebuilding effort and accomplish a transition period instead. With a rebuilding effort the entire program will essentially be scrapped and in the basement before it is restored. Considering Arizona’s consecutive NCAA Tournament streak is still active, the ’08-’09 ‘Cats are making a strong second half push, and Arizona has some surprise players, I don’t think this will be the route we take. A transition, will simply change the style and pinache’ of the team. There will be a down year or two as the new coach recruits the players to fit their game plan and builds the new traditions, but it will be more about building upon than rebuilding. 

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Future of the Program: Part I

Posted by naterb on February 5, 2009

Uncertainty around the future of Arizona’s program continues to fester towards a boiling point that a sweep of the Washington schools and a 3-game winning streak are an insufficient salve. No winning streak, in-game heroics, or even a PAC-10 crown will resolve the issues that the program faces, but at least they can appease our apprehensions and make the current predicament more enjoyable. Jim Livengood and the Wildcats must designate a successor to the Arizona program after the sudden health-related retirement of Lute Olson. In doing so they will shape the face of basketball in Tucson for many years to come. Who will be hired? A defensive-minded coach? A family guy? A critical coach like Bobby Knight was during his career? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arizona Wildcats, NCAA Basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Livengood's Second Chance

Posted by naterb on January 28, 2009

The fate of Arizona’s future rests on the shoulders of an AD that by-and-large has been more of a program curator rather than director. His job has been simple, sit back and watch as the softball, swimming and diving, and men’s basketball programs have had perpetual success year after year. Unfortunately, when the time has arisen for him to step up and make some executive directives he is largely known for making mistakes. He botched the Dick Tomey situation and the football program didn’t sniff a bowl game for ten years. He made matters worse by rushing to sign the first coach he could – John Macovick – which turned out to be the biggest mistake of his time at Arizona thus far. It took him seven years to find a suitable coach to turn the baseball program around. And he’s gone through several women’s basketball coaches during his tenure at Arizona.

 

 

Livengood’s track record has improved recently though. After what may have been a decision to try and be quick and decisive in hiring Macovick, Livengood eventually turned things around under Mike Stoops. Livengood stood by his choice and allowed Stoops to gradually turn the program around until they reached their first bowl appearance in ten years. He’s furthered his stock with the hiring of Andy Lopez as the baseball coach. Arizona’s baseball program has seen continued competitiveness under Lopez and doesn’t look to stop anytime soon. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pre-Game: Houston @ Arizona

Posted by naterb on January 23, 2009

Despite their inconsistent play, the Wildcats have an air of confidence about them that they can play with and beat any team on their schedule. The unfortunate side effect from that have been a couple of quotes by Nic Wise and Zane Johnson producing bulletin board material for two of the tougher opponents they’ve faced. This time the Wildcats were given some bulletin board material of their own. “We just need to go out there and play hard,” Houston Cougar’s starting power forward Qa’rraan Calhoun told the Houston Chronicle. “We need to go out there and play our game. If everyone plays like they played tonight (vs. East Carolina) we’ll walk out of there with a victory.” Those are pretty bold words by the power forward who is yet to see a team as talented as Arizona yet this season – and on the road no less.

Kelvin Lewis goes up for a dunk. Photo from grfx.cstv.com

Kelvin Lewis goes up for a dunk. Photo from grfx.cstv.com

For the Wildcats Saturday’s game against Houston could be a warm welcome from the rigors of the PAC-10 where their troubles have continued to mount. Arizona is accustomed to playing a non-conference game this late in the season – as they have done five of the past seven years. Lute Olson scheduled these games as measuring sticks to see where the ‘Cats stand and what things they need to work on. This year however, their woes are painfully obvious, and the game will be a nice change after facing a tough three-game stretch against UCLA, USC, and ASU.

This is the fourth-straight year that Houston and Arizona will face off with Arizona winning the last two by an average of 20 points. But the Wildcats can’t jump ahead and consider this an automatic or even easy win. Houston is a very athletic team with a great inside-outside game. The bulletin board feeder (Calhoun) is a long, athletic player in a 6’8” frame that can pound inside and has a nice stroke from beyond the arc
Read the rest of this entry »

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The Road to Twenty-Five

Posted by naterb on January 23, 2009

With two historical streaks broken in the past three years the Wildcats are on the brink of another, perhaps their most prestigious, as they appear to be NIT bound this year. During the 2005-2006 season, under Lute Olson, the Wildcats saw their 141 consecutive weeks in the AP Poll end on December 20, 2005 after defeating Utah on the road 73-43 three days earlier. The streak was the ninth-longest streak since the AP Poll was created on January 20, 1949.

Two years later, Arizona saw it’s streak of consecutive seasons with 20 wins or more come to an end. The streak spanned over two generations beginning in 1984-1985 and finally ending with the 2007-2008 season under Kevin O’Neill as interim coach.

Now after Lute Olson has officially retired and the Wildcats have a second interim coach in as many years, it appears as though the 24 years of consecutive NCAA Tournaments won’t become 25. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi doesn’t include the Wildcats anywhere near the NCAA Tournament – not even as a team on the bubble. Gary Parrish has only four bids going to the PAC-10, ironically he has one representative from each rivalry excluding the Oregon schools. Jerry Palm predicts how things will shape up in seven short weeks and the ‘Cats aren’t dancing. And Bracketville ’09 believes that Arizona needs to win 12 conference games (season + tourney) in order to find their glass slippers.

But maybe, just maybe, everyone is getting ahead of themselves because of the despairing drop in Arizona basketball that they’ve witnessed over the past year and a half. With an 11-8 record and only 12 regular season games remaining plus at least one in the PAC-10 Tournament the what do the Wildcats does the road look like for Arizona to reach their 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament?
Read the rest of this entry »

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Simple Mistakes Costing 'Cats

Posted by naterb on January 22, 2009

A frustrated Russ Pennell during the Arizona/Arizona State game. Picture from azcentral.com

A frustrated Russ Pennell during the Arizona/Arizona State game. Picture from azcentral.com

The lights just got a lot dimmer for the Arizona Wildcats tonight as they notched their 8th loss in their first 19 games. The 11-8 mark that the ‘Cats will go to bed with tonight is their worst record after 19 games since Lute Olson’s first year at Arizona when they were 5-14. Not only is the low mark disappointing, but the Wildcats must now win 9 of their remaining 12 games to reach the magical 20th win that is considered the cost of an NCAA Tournament Ticket. Despite being feasible, that is no small task by any standards and will likely end up with their dancing shoes having NIT written on the label rather than NCAA for the first time in 24 years.

The Wildcats have lost three straight games, as well as losses to the four teams in the top half of the conference they have faced. That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially considering how hard they’ve played only to have a questionable whistle play a deciding factor in their last two losses – against USC and last night against ASU. From an offensive standpoint, the Arizona State game was simply ugly. Too many turnovers, poor shooting, missed lay-ups, the whole-nine-yards. But for as bad as the Wildcats were offensively, the Sun Devils were right there with them. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Rivalry

Posted by naterb on January 20, 2009

the-rivalryThere hasn’t been this much drama in the Arizona/Arizona State Rivalry since some audacious ASU fans’ horrendous chants towards Steve Kerr back in 1984. Yes, even more drama than last year when Arizona State seemed to turn the tables by sweeping the ‘Cats. More drama than in 1998 when Arizona left Tempe with a 1-point victory. More dramatic than when ASU won three straight between 1994 and 1995 – their longest during the Lute Olson era in Tucson – to which Arizona responded with 11-straight wins over the Sun Devils.
There have been some great match-ups, Ike Diogu vs. Channing Frye and Eddie House vs. Gilbert Arenas to name a couple. But something is different this year. Arizona State fans are ready to declare that the tables have turned in this rivalry and that they are now the premier team in the state. They’re nationally ranked, have a better record, an impressive road win at Pauley Pavilion and many other arguments to support their case.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are in the midst of their rockiest two season with Lute Olson first taking a leave of absence followed by being forced to retire due to medical conditions. The ‘Cats had a fall-out with their 2008 recruiting class and have turned to searching for hidden talent to produce big performances.

These are all circumstances that perhaps won’t play out beyond this year after Harden departs from ASU and the Wildcats start to rebuild beginning in just a few months when they look to hire a premier head coach to replace Olson on a permanent basis. The Sun Devils will lose a majority of their talent (ie James Harden) after this year and will need to put together some solid recruiting classes if they truly want to turn the tables rather than just repeating their 3-rivalry-game win streak. The Wildcats future is more uncertain and will likely contain a few years of bumps and bruises, but with the right hire they should be able to keep history on their side and continue to dominate this rivalry again down the road. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arizona Wildcats, Game Preview, NCAA Basketball, PAC-10 Basketball | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

PAC-10 to Honor Olson

Posted by naterb on January 9, 2009

The PAC-10 announced that they will be honoring Lute Olson during the PAC-10 Tournament this March. Considering that Olson has more PAC-10 Conference wins than John Wooden, it’s a wonder that Olson wasn’t inducted into the PAC-10 Hall of Fame during his career like he was with the Basketball Hall of Fame. Congratulations Coach Olson.

Olson was something of a no-brainer for the conference to honor: He was 327-104 in Pac-10 play and won the league title 11 times over his 24 seasons at UA.
AZStarnet.com

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All-Time Lute Olson Team

Posted by naterb on January 9, 2009

 

 

oldschoolnewschoolAfter trimming down roughly 25 years of rosters into two separate 12-man rosters, I had a tougher task of combining the teams into one team and cutting half the players. The criteria of Old School and New School All-Star teams has been thrown out the window because it is time to produce the All-Time Lute Olson Team. By now you should be familiar with the criteria, but I feel it is important to reiterate one of them – that the team has to be realistically functional. I can’t have 12 backcourt players on this roster, nor can I have half of the team be frontcourt players. So I’m sure that there will be a fair deal of disagreement on who gets in and who sits out. That’s okay, once again tell me what you like and what you would change and why.

 

All-Time Lute Olson Team

Starters:

Point Guard: Steve Kerr – How can you not start Steve Kerr? He performed so many heroics in an Arizona jersey and faced the most amount of adversity any college player has ever seen. He was an incredibly smart player and a prolific three-point shooter. To not start Kerr would be an injustice.

Shooting Guard: Damon Stoudamire – If you’re looking for a guy that could do it all as the off-guard look no further than Damon Stoudamire. Lightning fast, aggressive, and a big time play-maker.

Small Forward: Sean Elliott – Elliott was the key to the success of ‘88. He was arguably the best prospect Arizona has ever had, at any position. You can tell me that I’ve made a bad call on point guard, shooting guard, or any other position – but if you tell me I blew this one you are in serious need of a shrink evaluation.

Power Forward: Channing Frye – Yes, I know Frye wasn’t actually a power forward in his time at Arizona, but he was better than any power forward on the list. So I would go with two starting centers on this list. Frye was an amazing shot blocker who could run the court. Matched with his offensive skill set there’s no doubt in my mind that Frye deserves a starting spot.

Center: Brian Williams (aka Bison Dele) – This could be the most debated pick, but Williams was the epitome of a true center. He was big, strong, and was an intimidator inside the paint. Williams gets my vote as the best center in Arizona history.

The Bench:

PG: Mike Bibby – If it weren’t for Kerr, I would start Mike Bibby because he had the most complete all-around game of the group of point guards. Bibby could shoot, make the amazing pass, create his own shot and apply great pressure on the defensive end. Not to mention in his freshman year he guided and directed the Wildcats to their NCAA Championship in 1997.

PG: Jason Terry – Terry was a maniac at Arizona. He had so much speed and intensity that no team could ever match it. When he was coming off the bench it was almost an instant momentum boost. If he was starting you knew the entire team was going to play hard while he was on the court. And who could forget those ‘Cats’ socks up to his knees?

SG: Miles Simon – I said it before, Simon wasn’t the most talented player ever to suit up for Olson, but he was perhaps the luckiest. Simon always found a way to get it done, even if it was luck sometimes. When you’re going for an NCAA Championship luck does have something to do with it, and Simon was lucky (think ¾ court buzzer beater vs. Cincy).

SF: Michael Dickerson – I am a huge Dickerson fan. He played smart, played hard, and was a great defender. He was a streaky shooter because of his delivery, but when he was on he was down-right lethal. I just wish that his chronic health problems wouldn’t have forced him to leave the NBA early.

SF: Chris Mills – How can you argue with the stats and the job that he did at Arizona? Earning All-American and All-Conference accolades, shot nearly 50% from beyond the arc, and tallied 16.5 ppg during his tenure at Arizona.

PF: Ben Davis – Davis didn’t have the career numbers that some of the other players had, not even some of the ones that were left off this team. Davis did lead the team in scoring and rebounding during his senior season and was the go-to guy that year. His ‘go-to’ status is what puts him on this list above some of the players who were left off.

C: Loren Woods: Woods has the highest blocks per game average of anyone. Tally that with his 14.4 cumulative points per game, it would be an injustice to leave Woods of this team.

 

Last Players Cut (No particular order): Michael Wright, Salim Stoudamire, Richard Jefferson, Anthony Cook, Tom Tolbert

Posted in Arizona Wildcats, NCAA Basketball, PAC-10 Basketball, Sports: General | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Should a Coach Bench Their Stars?

Posted by naterb on January 7, 2009

 

“Uh-oh!” My two-year-old son’s words resonated in my ears as they broke the silence I was enjoying while drinking my morning coffee. After setting down my coffee and getting out of my comfortable leather chair I walked into the bathroom where my son stood there sheepishly after dropping my wife’s new earrings in the toilet. He knew he was in trouble, and rightfully so. Before I could say a word he looked up and said “I sorry.”

As a father one of the things I have learned quickly is that when your child acts up there needs to be swift consequences for the trouble they are causing. Whether they’re pulling the dogs tail, flushing mommy’s brand new earrings down the toilet, throwing a temper tantrum because you don’t get them that new toy, or just being outright defiant, there has to be structured and appropriate consequences for the poor decisions that they are making.

 

For a basketball coach and his players it is the same. If a player is showing up late for practice, fighting with teammates, breaking team rules, or not following instructions during practice or games, the player needs to see direct and immediate consequences for his actions. Nobody is above the rules or the consequences.

 

Russ Pennell demonstrated that by benching Nic Wise and Jordan Hill for being a few moments late for practice.

 

Lute Olson did it several times, one of the most notable was when he benched Pete Williams, Joe Turner and Morgan Taylor for missing curfew before a big game. After the rules were broken, Olson benched the three stars for the entire first half in a late-season match-up with UCLA.

 

Ultimately what causes the coach to bench a player and a parent to discipline their child is the fact that that the player/child is hurting themselves and those that count on them. When players aren’t hustling, like Jamelle Horne earlier this season, they’re hurting their team by not giving 100%. Pennell laid the consequences out by taking away Horne’s starting spot. Horne got the message and has since been averaging around 10 points and 10 rebounds a game.

But what do you do when a player isn’t hustling because they’re frustrated with their performance? That’s the exact case Pennell is dealing with in regards to Chase Budinger who is currently mired in a four-game slump. Frankly, benching him isn’t the answer. When deciding what action to take with a player and the negative effects they’re having on the team, you have to consider the root. If Pennell were to bench Budinger it would only amplify the problem by demoralizing Chase’s confidence even further. So, while benching a player is often a good solution to lack of effort or poor decision making, it isn’t the case here. The only solution that Pennell has within his means is to run a few set plays early in the next game to find Budinger coming off a screen or rolling towards the basket.

Coaching, as with parenting, requires appropriate responses to player/child problems. Occasionally a player must be benched, suspended, forced to run extra wind sprints in practice, or even be kicked off the team all together. Coaches have to take careful consideration as to the effects of the issue at hand and the consequences they implement.

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