Brad Stevens, Brad Stevens, Brad Stevens. The talk of the college basketball world has been centered on the Wednesday afternoon announcement that the Butler head coach was leaving his post for the glamour and riches of the NBA’s Boston Celtics. Everyone, of course, has an opinion on this bold and very surprising move, so let’s sum up what folks are saying. First, from the Brad Stevens/Celtics side: Adrian Wojnarowski writes that Stevens represents the “changing face of [NBA] coaches” in its new era of statistical analytics; the Indy Star‘s Bob Kravitz says that he can’t blame Stevens for jumping to the league; Fox Sports‘ Reid Forgrave calls the move a “gutsy” one on the part of Danny Ainge and the Celtics; while SI.com‘s Ben Golliver argues that the Celtics’ decision to pluck a successful college head coach with no NBA experience is a worthwhile risk. As we tweeted when we heard the news on Wednesday, the move makes sense from a logical standpoint, but it just doesn’t feel right. Stevens embodied our perhaps romantic notion of a college lifer, and in the NBA, coaches are hired to be fired. It’s hard to see him not coming back to our game sooner rather than later.
From a coach on the way out of the college game to one sticking around, Florida State’s Leonard Hamiltonreceived an extension through 2016-17 (and a $750,000 raise, to boot) to remain in Tallahassee as the head coach of the Seminoles. The timing is somewhat surprising given that FSU last year suffered its worst season (18-16) in nearly a decade under Hamilton’s tutelage, but his previous four years of NCAA Tournament appearances and an ACC Championship certainly show that Hamilton has his program in overall good shape. His new salary of $2.25 million annually puts him second behind only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in terms of salaries among ACC coaches.
We’re 51 weeks away from next season’s NBA Draft, but Mike DeCourcy took time during his Starting Five column this week to break down how he sees the top five picks going for 2014 (let’s just say that one-and-done is prominently featured). He also takes time to rip both FIBA — for its appalling lack of television broadcast options for the U-19 team — and Georgetown recruit LJ Peak, whose “psyche-out” trick using the school hats of suitors South Carolina and the Hoyas left a really bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths (ourselves included).
Let’s finish the holiday week with some really good news on the health front: ESPN’s highlighter aficianado Digger Phelpshas been declared cancer-free related to his bladder cancer diagnosis earlier this year. In just over one 12-month period, Phelps had survived both prostate and now bladder cancer, so it’s been a wild but ultimately successful year for the 72-year old television personality and former head coach. Phelps takes a lot of heat for some of his takes on ESPN’s Gameday show, but he’s always entertaining and we certainly hope that these health problems will remain behind him so that we can all enjoy many more years of green tie/highlighter pairings from January to March each season.
We’re experiencing Lute Olson fatigue around here lately, but we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t put a period on this story by reporting what Olson’s physician revealed to the world in a press conference today. Dr. Steven Knope stated that Olson was being treated for severe depression and impaired judgment for several months and had not responded favorably when an MRI taken early last week showed that Olson had endured a stroke in his frontal lobe at some point within the past year. Dr. Knope impressed upon Olson to retire from coaching, which he did last Thursday. From the East Valley Tribune:
“He is frankly devastated,” Knope said. “This is something that is simply beyond his control.” [...] Knope said he had advised Olson in recent weeks to step down from his head coaching position, saying Olson “just couldn’t put the pieces together.” Knope decided to request an MRI for Olson because he wasn’t responding to therapy and medication for depression. “He knew something was wrong, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it,” Knope said.
(Photo Credit: Tucson Citizen)
The doctor stated that Olson was otherwise in good health (he has a familial tremor and atrial fibrillation that are being treated), but there were concerns that additional stress from coaching could lead to more problems with his already-compromised judgment. For Arizona fans, they can finally move on and put the mess Olson left in his wake behind them. Already the Class of 2009 recruits are looking elsewhere, and the new interim coach was last seen stalking the sidelines in AAU ball, but there is a strong enough foundation there for continued success supposing the right person (Mark Few? John Calipari? Jamie Dixon?) is hired to lead it.
Oh, and stay well, Lute. Strokes are no joke. We hope he can continue to live a life of freedom and facility.
Now that we’ve had a little bit of time to digest the news of Lute Olson’s retirement from Arizona after 24 seasons, it’s time to take a look at his legacy. Lute wore his humanity on his sleeve for the past year or so as he’s piloted the usually steady Arizona ship into some rough waters through a minefield of health issues, marital problems, leadership changes and various other snafus. But for the previous 34 years of coaching, Olson has consistently fielded talented teams that were a threat to win it all. Consider the following accomplishments of a first-ballot HOF career:
Olson’s numbers place him in an elite group of one-title coaches, including contemporaries Jim Boeheim, Tubby Smith, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, and Gary Williams. The one thing, however, that separates him from those other names is that each of those coaches entered programs as new coaches where basketball was already an established way of life. In Tucson, Lute Olson IS Arizona basketball.
When Lute Olson stepped off the plane from the icy midwest in 1983, he encountered sunshine, babes and bikinis, but also an Arizona program that was so far off the map in terms of basketball success, you needed a magnifying glass to find it. In the 78 previous years of its existence, the program had managed to make it to three NCAA Tournaments (1951, 1976, 1977) and three NITs (1946, 1950, 1951). The combined NCAA record of those teams was 2-3, with both wins coming in the 1976 tournament (two upsets over Georgetown and UNLV to reach the Elite Eight). The combined NIT record was 0-3, which meant that, upon Lute Olson’s arrival, the Wildcats had enjoyed only a single year (1976) in its basketball history with postseason wins of any kind. To make matters worse, the team that Olson inherited was coming off the absolute worst year in the history of the program (4-24, 1-17 in the Pac-10).
To say that Olson built the Arizona program up from the ashes insults the concept of fire. After one mediocre year in 1983-84 (11-17), Olson found the mojo that he had utilized during previous stints at Long Beach St. (24-2) and Iowa ( 168-90), and set off onto the triumphant career in the desert that we’re talking about today. The key, of course, was recruiting, and Lute mined the west coast hoops hotbeds (especially SoCal) on an annual basis, and it showed on the court. Prior to Lute’s arrival in Tucson, Arizona had produced one first-round draft pick (Larry Demic in 1979). Beginning in 1989 with the transcendental Sean Elliott, Olson put 13 first-rounders and 17 second-rounders into the NBA Draft, including such fantastic pros like Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, and Andre Iguodala. By the time Lute got it really going in the mid-90s, Arizona had become a chic destination school for America’s blue chippers, and he was able to recruit nationally – Jason Gardner (Indianapolis) and Loren Woods (St. Louis via Wake Forest) from the 2001 runner-up team come to mind, but there were many others. Let there be no question – Arizona basketball wouldn’t exist on the national stage were it not for Lute Olson. Here’s his crowning moment.
There’s no doubt that Lute was a tremendous program-builder, teacher and recruiter, but if we had to pick one criticism of his illustrious career, it would be that his teams sometimes appeared to lose focus and/or lack motivation. Maybe it was the laid-back lifestyle of Tucson or simply something about the kids Olson tended to recruit, but in our view, it is somewhat telling that he won his sole national championship in 1997 with a #4 seed. Don’t take that the wrong way – that was a SICK team that just hadn’t come together until very late in the season (and we had the privilege of watch cut down the nets). But they were an underdog in each of their three games against #1 seeds Kentucky, UNC and Kansas, and we always felt that Lute relished and managed the underdog role a little more than he was able to do so as the favorite. Let’s make the case statistically.
As stated above, Lute Olson has gone to five Final Fours. Here are the NCAA Tournament seeds for those years – #5, #1, #2, #4, #2 (avg. = 2.8). Arizona also received five #1 seeds during Olson’s tenure. Here’s the result for those five Tourneys – F4, S16, E8, R32, E8 (avg. = 2.6 games won). When Lute was expected to go to the F4, he went once; when he was not expected to go, he went four other times. This quick examination of the numbers confirms what we wrote last year when we surveyed the top overachieving and underachieving programs of the 64/65-team era of the NCAA Tournament. From 1985-2007, Arizona averaged a #4.1 seed in the NCAAs. The historical model (above) suggests that Arizona should have won 44.1 NCAA contests over this period - the Cats won 39, which means they ‘underachieved’ by nearly five Ws, and therefore puts UA in terms of performance in the bottom third of schools with greater than eight appearances over the era. The most obvious examples of this phenomenon were first-round upsets in 1992 (#3 UA loses to #14 ETSU), 1993 (#2 UA loses to #15 Santa Clara), and 1999 (#4 UA loses to #13 Oklahoma). Even Olson’s most talented and decorated team, the 1998 #1 Wildcats led by Mike Bibby and Jason Terry, had a major letdown in the E8 against #3 Utah, getting run out of the gym by 25 points. What were we saying about focus and motivation?
(Photo Credit: Tucson Citizen)
It’ll be sad to see Lute Olson go. Even last year, when Kevin O’Neill was busily turning Arizona into Tennessee ca. 1998 (ugh), we still thought the Silver Fox would make his way back to the sidelines again. You could always count on Olson teams to have athletes who made the game fun to watch. If his medical problems are serious enough to warrant missing another season, then he probably is making the right decision in riding off into the desert sunset. Best of luck to him and his family.
A mere two days after making comments to the media that he was “fired up” to be back for a new season, the Lute Olson Soap Opera continued in earnest today. ESPN (through Rays megafan Dick Vitale) is reporting that Olson is retiring from Arizona after 24 seasons at the school. (h/t The Big Lead)
Arizona’s Lute Olson is stepping down as the school’s men’s basketball coach, a source has told ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale. Associate coach Mike Dunlap will take over the head coaching duties on an interim basis, the source told Vitale.
As of mid-morning Pacific time, Arizona officials are vehemently denying these reports. From the Arizona Daily Wildcat:
UA sports information director Tom Duddleston said the news is not true. “Dick Vitale is wrong right now,” Duddleston said in a phone interview with the Daily Wildcat. When asked if there is any indication that any of the reports may be true, Duddleston said no.
The reports further claim that Mike Dunlap, a current assistant coach for Olson, will take over the reins as the head man. Dunlap’s previous head coaching experience was at D2 Metro State in Denver, where he was an astonishing 248-50 (.832) with two national titles at that level (2000 and 2002).
We’ll see how this shakes down as the day matures, but it has all the earmarks of a solid scoop. Olson’s recent history of mania notwithstanding, we do hope that his medical condition is treatable and something that will allow him to continue to enjoy a happy, fulfilling life.
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