Former Australian basketball player Chris Anstey, who played exhibition games against Arizona while with a pro team in Melbourne, has a daughter at UCLA who will match up against the Wildcats on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion.
Izzy Anstey is a 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman with the Bruins.
Her father got to know Lute Olson through Australia’s exhibitions with Arizona at McKale Center and when the Wildcats traveled to Australia for games against professional teams there in various years.
After Olson passed away on Aug. 27, 2020, Antsey posted on his Facebook page a story about a meeting and discussion he had with the legendary Hall of Fame coach.
This is what he wrote:
CHARACTER (noun): “The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”
THE LESSON: A person’s true character is reflected in their behaviors, especially when nobody is around.
THE STORY: I sat across from legendary Coach Lute Olson in his Melbourne hotel lobby in 2013.
I had been aware of how great his impact had been on the players he coached. I had heard stories of his greatness. I had played against his Arizona Wildcats and admired the way he had built them into a national powerhouse. He had shaken my hand after each game.
The kind, knowing eyes that looked me right in the eye each time I briefly encountered him now looked across a small breakfast table at me.
Many champions of the game have, and will continue to, pay tribute to a mentor and icon of the game that had such a positive impact on their lives. I did not know Coach Olson, but as with most great leaders, he was so generous in sharing his knowledge with me this cold winter morning.
Mainly, we spoke about people. About character. About authenticity. After all, he said, it was the quality of people he surrounded himself with that allowed them to all succeed. He told me, like many young coaches looking to prove that they could coach, that he was drawn to talent in his first couple of years and was prepared to overlook certain negative personality traits.
He learned very early that people of poor character within a team would create division, distractions and reduce the productivity of the team.
He decided, after a couple of incidents, that he would rather lose with high quality people around him and stand by them as they grew, than win with lower character people. After all, he had to turn up to work with his team every day and wanted to look forward to getting up each morning.
So, almost 40 years ago, he added a non-negotiable step to his recruiting process.
The Janitor Test.
He explained that most players that were being recruited were smart enough to be on their best behavior when they knew they were being evaluated. They would train hard and say all the right things. After all, there was something that a recruiter had that the athlete wanted.
Similarly, many high school coaches and principals he spoke to would give glowing reports of their own students, often neglecting to mention significant behavioral issues that had caused many problems within their school community. After all, they wanted their school to be seen to have produced successful athletes.
Coach Olson said that his program turned around the minute he instructed his recruiters to seek out the janitor of each recruit’s high school and ask them how the athlete in question had treated them.
In some young people’s eyes, the janitor was seen as a lower class of society than themselves. Someone who was there to clean up after them.
But Coach Olson knew that they were a vital cog in the operation and reputation of the school community and had their fingers on the pulse of the school corridors and bathrooms when teachers were not around. He wanted to know if the athlete acknowledged the janitor. Was he respectful of him? Well mannered?
As a highly rated high school athlete, how did he treat his schoolmates?
After all, the janitor did not have an agenda and would not benefit by providing a false report of a student who caused problems around the school. Janitors in high schools around the USA became the eyes and ears for the University of Iowa and University of Arizona.
Only high-character athletes passed a test they had no idea they were taking.
Coach Olson had, over breakfast, rubber stamped my favorite saying in the world, one that scares the hell out of particular types of people, but equally excites others.
“You never know who’s watching.”
Opportunities in life present themselves at the least expected times. Many will be taken by those who are at their best when there were reasons not to be. Many will be lost without ever knowing they existed.
Rest in Peace Coach, you left your legacy in some great hands.