The Arizona athletics department is doing something that many have thought has been long overdue. It’s constructing a statue of a likeness of Lute Olson, Director of Athletics Dave Heeke announced on Tuesday.
The statue will be located north of the Jim Click Hall of Champions on the Eddie Lynch Athletics Pavilion Plaza. The statue project is estimated to cost about $300,000 and construction is scheduled to be completed in March 2018.
“It’s a great honor,” Olson texted me. “I enjoyed every minute of my time coaching at the U of A. I truly apprciate the wonderful fans and all the support they have given me and the basketball program, then and now.”
Of course, Arizona officials are happy to be doing this. It comes on the 30th anniversay of Olson’s first Final Four with UA in 1988.
“We’re thrilled to recognize Coach Olson, not just for what he accomplished on the basketball court, but for what he means to Arizona and our community,” Heeke said. “Through the success of Arizona basketball, Lute helped introduce people around the country to our University and this city, and he forever changed the trajectory and perception of our athletics department. His legendary status is worthy of this honor, and we’re proud that his statue will be visible to the thousands of people that visit McKale on a yearly basis.”
Olson served as the head coach at Arizona for 24 seasons and amassed a 589-187 (.759) record. He led the Wildcats to the 1997 National Championship, four Final Four appearances, 23 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and 11 Pac-10 titles, while earning Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors seven times.
“This is a wonderful honor and I’m grateful to the people at Arizona who made the decision to put up a statue,” Olson said in a statement through UA. “I was fortunate to have a successful career that spanned a number of different locations, but Tucson and the University of Arizona have become my home. I’m deeply touched at this recognition and I want to thank all of the staff members, student-athletes and fans, who made, and continue to make, my life at Arizona something special.”
The location of the statue was determined based on a number of factors. The Eddie Lynch Pavilion Plaza is connected with central campus and the UA mall, which sees the greatest amount of the area’s general traffic. That area also sees a large percentage of the basketball gameday traffic.
The construction of the statue coincides with the 30th anniversary of the 1988 men’s basketball team. The ’88 team was the first in program history to qualify for the Final Four. They also won Pac-10 regular season and tournament championships en route to a 35-3 record.
To assist with some of the project cost, Steve Kerr, current Golden St. Warriors head coach and prominent member of the 1988 team, is partnering with Original Retro Brand to sell Arizona Kerr replica jerseys and tees (graphic attached). Kerr has agreed to donate his royalties from the replica-jersey sales to the Lute Olson Statue Fund. In addition, ORB Founder and CEO Marc Herman has agreed to match Kerr’s donation.
The Kerr tees will be available exclusively at the McKale Center A-Store from Aug. 31 through Sept. 9 and on football game days at various merchandise tent locations. In addition, the online sale of tees will begin on Aug. 31 at BearDownShop.com, Originalretrobrand.com, and UABookstore.com. The replica jerseys will be available on Wednesday, Sept. 20 in store and online. The collection will also be available at select Just Sports locations in Tucson and Phoenix after Oct. 15.
Because the donations from Kerr and Herman are expected to cover only a small portion of the cost, the bulk of the statue project will be supported through private donations.
As part of a continuing effort to recognize Coach Olson and his accomplishments, he and his wife Kelly will be honored at halftime of the home football game against Utah on Sept. 22. Coincidentally, that is also Olson’s 83rd birthday.