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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Kerr’

Future of the Program: Part II

Posted by naterb on February 12, 2009



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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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 »

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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


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

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Old School All-Stars

Posted by naterb on January 5, 2009

 When putting together an All-Star team, I wanted to make sure that each of the players had played under Olson for a minimum of two years, and had two years starting. I was a bit lenient on the starting role, so long as they were impact players. Obviously my first two selections were Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott. Kerr & Elliott were the surprise players that skirted under the radar and paid huge dividends for Olson and essentially put the Wildcats on the map.
For the criteria see “Coming Soon


Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr

 Point Guard – Steve Kerr: Kerr wasn’t the type of player that would break you down with his athleticism and footwork, but he was a hard-working and intelligent player. If you stuck strictly to numbers (11.2 ppg, 3.4 apg, and 2.2 rpg) Kerr isn’t the best point guard ever to step foot onto McKale center, but the impact he had on the program was by far the most significant. Kerr led the Wildcats to their first Final Four appearance and held the UA career 3-point percentage title until Salim Stoudamire broke roughly 15 years later.

“…he (Kerr) plays very well. He’s intelligent, shoots the ball well, and is a real leader on the floor.” – Lute Olson

Moment to remember: Four days after the assassination of his father, Kerr stepped onto the court to face ASU in Tucson. Kerr knocked down his first basket, a 25-footer, and went 5-7 from the field and 5-5 from the free throw line to lead the ‘Cats to a 71-49 route of their in-state rivals.





Damon StoudamireShooting Guard – Damon Stoudamire: Stoudamire was more of a point guard, but like many UA guards he played both positions. Stoudamire was a tenacious defender and lightning quick. Despite being undersized, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that if I were to choose a shooting guard, I would want Stoudamire because of his multi-faceted game. He could shoot (over 40% from beyond the arc), break down defenses with his dribble, and played great defense (1.7 spg).


“It was obvious Damon had been well coach. Anytime he stepped on a court he was immediately the leader… He was a human press breaker… Once he got a step on a defender, there was no way anybody was going to catch him.”

Sean Elliott
Sean Elliott


Small Forward – Sean Elliott:  Elliott was the first National Player of the Year (‘89) to come out of Arizona. Elliott was athletic, could shoot, and played solid defense. He was on the ‘88 Final Four team the season before leading Arizona to its first #1 ranking to close-out a season. That ‘89 team lost to UNLV on a buzzer beater in the NCAA Tournament. The two-time All-American and two-time PAC-10 Player of the Year is arguably the best UA player of all time. and was the All-time leading scorer for the University until Hasan Adams broke the record two years ago.


 Power Forward – Tom Tolbert:

I was ready to leave Tolbert off the list because of the problems that he had with Olson and because of incidents like hiding in a mall fountain to get out of running. But in the end, his performance and influence on the program is far too great. He was the guy that, although not the most talented, was a hard-nose player who fought it out during games. I’ll let this excerpt demonstrate the type of player that Tolbert was.

“Tom Tolbert injured his back so badly that we weren’t sure he’d be ready to play… While he played he obviously was hampered. In the first half against North Carolina he managed only one basket, one free throw, and one rebound. At the end of halftime I took him aside and asked him flatly, “Tom, do you really want to go to the Final Four?”

“Yes,” he said, “Yes, sir.”

“Then prove it.”

In the second half the endless battles we’d fought in practice pad off. In the first fourteen minutes of the second half Tolbert personally outscored North Carolina 16-12.”

Interesting Fact: Tolbert’s decision to back out of UNLV and commit to Arizona is was earned Olson the nickname “Midnight Lute.”

Center – Brian Williams (aka Bison Dele): Williams owns the record for best field goal percentage on the season (61.9%), and was a true center. He was hard nosed and big, one of the few true centers that attended Arizona, and arguably the best one of Olson’s tenure. He was the whole package that you want out of a center, big, tall, athletic, and could rebound and block shots with the best of ’em. Unfortunately, he is more known for his mysterious death/disappearance at sea.

Bench Players:

Reggie Geary – Geary was part of the inaugural three-guard lineup, and used his speed, athleticism and long arms to become a defensive menace to other teams.

“Reggie was 6’2” and some games he had to guard a 6’9” forward, but he had very, very long arms and was a great leaper so he could do it.”

Khalid Reeves: Reeves is the remaining guard in the inaugural three-guard lineup (with Geary and D. Stoudamire). Their speed and athleticism was a huge advantage. Frequently the taller guards and forwards were incapable of stopping them which forced teams into a zone. His numbers weren’t great, but he had a huge impact on the program.

Interesting fact: Reeves notified Olson of his commitment to Arizona while conversing through a bathroom stall during an All-Star tournament.

Kenny Lofton: Lofton wasn’t the most talented player for Olson, in fact there are some players that were left off this list that were probably more talented than Lofton was. But Lofton was high energy and a true competitor. He played hard and was lightning quick. I almost knocked him off the list because of his role in the UNLV upset of ‘89 (remember he was the guy that flopped and freed up Anderson Hunt for the game winning 3).

Chris Mills: Mills was a 2-year player for Arizona, after transferring from Kentucky in 1990 he was an instant impact player for Arizona. During his senior season he earned All-American accolades by averaging 20.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Mills also shot 48.4% from beyond the arc.

Jud Buechler: Buechler earns a spot because of his ability to do what the coaches wanted him to, when they needed him to. Perfect example of this is during a game against Iowa in 1987 Buechler came off the bench to replace Sean Elliott who had just fouled out, and hit four consecutive free throws to help the ‘Cats to a 66-59 win. Buechler’s ability to do this is the true definition of what the “Gumbies*” really were.

Ben Davis: Probably one of my more controversial picks for this team. Davis played for Arizona for only two years after transferring from Kansas and Hutchison Community College. Davis earns a spot on this team because during his senior season (95-96) he was the go-to guy. The three-guard lineup had disappeared, and Davis was Arizona’s primary weapon. He led the team with 14.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest and earned All-Conference accolades.

Anthony Cook – Cook has the best all around stats of any center or power forward before 1996. Cook was an honorable-mention All-American during his senior season (‘89) as he averaged 17.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and 2.5 bpg. The most impressive thing about it is that he was undersized for a center at 6’9” and 205 pounds. He would often face off against guys significantly larger than he was. Normally I’m not a big fan of undersized centers, but there’s not debating the fact that Cook got it done and for that, he jumps into the starting role.


* Gumbies:

“We’re the Gumbies because we do whatever Coach wants us to do. He bends us this way, he bends us that way. In practice we pretend we’re Iowa, or USC. We’re just disposable and totally manipulated. We’re the Gumbies.” – Bruce Fraser

The Gumbies consisted of Harvey Mason, Matt Muehlebach, Jud Buechler, Sean Rooks, Craig Bergman, Mark Georgeson, and Brian David, and Bruce Fraser.

**All quotes used in this article have been taken from Lute: The Seasons of My Life. If you have not read this book, it is a must-read for all Arizona Wildcats fans.  

Another Great moment in UA’s Old School Vault

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