Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson and Andre Iguodala — all participants again in this year’s NBA Finals — last played at Arizona when Lute Olson still coached the Wildcats.
That’s now more than 10 seasons ago. Olson coached his last game in the 2006-07 season. Jefferson will turn 37 on June 21. Frye is 34 and Iguodala 33.
Those three players are more than or as many as what half the teams in the Pac-12 had all season in the NBA, including ASU, which had only James Harden. Arizona had 12 former players overall compete in the NBA this season.
Programs such as Baylor, Oklahoma, Purdue, N.C. State and San Diego State had two or less former players on NBA rosters this season.
Why is it that players recruited and coached by Olson are still playing, and not only that — for championship-caliber teams? And keep in mind Jason Terry is not talking retirement yet after his 18th season in the league.
His longtime assistant coach Jim Rosborough addressed that question and others pertaining to the players he helped mold into elite-level participants in the NBA.
Q: The NBA Finals alone show that Arizona’s players have great staying power in the league. Why is that?
Rosborough: I think we really, really had a good staff that was very, very demanding in practice. This started with the head guy but he had good assistants, and a good associate head coach (himself) — a good looking associate head coach (laughs). Well, I heard this a lot of times … scouts and assistant coaches say, ‘Man, if you come out of Arizona, you know the terminology. You’ve been well-schooled defensively. You know how to play. You know how to play defense.’ Defensively, they were exposed to everything that was demanded. They learned the fundamentals and executed the fundamentals from ball-handling every day to screening out in the lane. Our style of play was such for developing guys. We let them play. We let them put the ball on the floor. We let them penetrate, pull up for 15-foot jumpers and take 3’s if they were open. They didn’t have to go running around worried about shooting 3’s. I’m not condemning anybody else. I’m just saying that’s how we played. Of course we wanted good shots. Offensively, it was a good system for the guys and defensively they were exposed to everything you could expose them to. We were demanding on the fundamentals. I’ve heard that from NBA coaches, scouts and assistants. I’ve heard that our guys were really well prepared. And on top of that, they’re good players. And on top of that, they’ve handled themselves well. They have been good team guys. They haven’t caused problems for owners.
Q: Does anything surprise you about how Frye, Jefferson and Iguodala are still playing at a productive level?
Rosborough: I don’t want to say surprised because he’s a good athlete, but Richard Jefferson is still very capable. He’s been a little up and down in the playoffs. I saw quotes from LeBron James that guys like Richard and Channing stay professional. James said things like Channing didn’t play in a series too much but he knows he will be important for them in the next one.
Q: Anything stick out schematically that is keeping them in the NBA this long?
Rosborough: With Richard, I think he’s taking care of himself. In over the last six or seven or eight yearsm I think he’s really worked hard in the offseason. He’s staying in good shape and so on. They also get smarter as they get older. He’s taken good care of himself now more than he probably did when he started in the NBA. He’s a good athlete. He’s got a good feel for the game. He’s on a team that can really use him and likes him. I think LeBron really likes Richard and Channing. I think both of those guys been really good for LeBron. They can laugh. They’re smart. They’re intelligent guys. They’re good locker-room guys.
Q: What do you think of the way Frye has shown endurance after the issue with his heart with Phoenix (that made him miss a season) and his lack of opportunities with Orlando?
Rosborough: Channing is a little bit younger. He has the one thing that Lauri Markkanen has — he can shoot the basketball. He’s a decent athlete, not a great, great athlete. He can run. We made him run. I don’t know if he is a great, great defender, but he is smart enough to know what to do in the league and he can shoot the basketball. He can stretch the defense. Every now and then he can pull a 25- or 26-point game out. He is absolutely a smart basketball player. He’s taken care of himself. He watches his diet. Everything you see or hear or read, he has prepared himself for life after basketball. He’s a smart kid. I think he really worked at keeping himself at top shape and it shows.
Q: What is the key for Iguodala’s sustainability?
Rosborough: You look at that guy, he’s a rock. He’s taken care of himself. He is another team-first guy, a terrific sixth man. Being a sixth man may have extended his career a little bit because he’s playing 26 or 28 minutes a game instead of 35 or more. That may have been a reason extending Richard out the last couple of years. He hasn’t taken that 35- to 40-minute pounding. Channing, too, he’s been a reserve. Richard, the same way. Maybe it’s saved their bodies a little bit because that game’s a grind boy.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.