Arizona Basketball

They Came to Honor Lute Olson – “Thank You, Lute”

They came, saw (one another) and concurred – the late, great Lute Olson was more than a coach to them, but a friend, associate and a mentor for life.

“I would just thank him,” former UA great Steve Kerr said when asked what he’d do or say if he would be able to talk to him. “Everybody here was impacted by him so dramatically. My life changed in an incredible fashion after coming to UA and playing for Coach O, learning everything I did from him. My whole professional career in basketball is really thanks to Coach.”

That coming from a five-time NBA champion as a player and an NBA coach who has won another three NBA titles.

Life is good because of him.

Kerr and many others – Mike Bibby, Miles Simon, Jason Terry, Judd Buechler, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson and so many more – were on hand to pay tribute to the man they played for in the 25 years he was a coach for UA.

Videos came in from UA great Sean Elliott, former UA player turned coach Josh Pastner and former North Carolina coach Roy Williams.

Platitudes from all over. From him being this great halftime tactician to in-game genius. And, of course, for having that great hair and, well, those movie star looks.

He was Kelly Olson’s “white-haired” George Clooney. He got up out of bed looking good.

They spoke – openly and candidly – about what he meant to them, the university and the city. They laughed and cried in what was an emotional but fun day for those who admired and loved the man who brought UA a national title in 1997 and 11 Pacific 10 Conference titles.

“Not in my wildest dreams could I imagine what happened, and the beautiful part about it is that we built it from the ground up,” said Kerr, who was part of Lute’s early recruiting classes. “It wasn’t that he was a great basketball coach; he was a great culture builder. Everything he taught … it was a masterclass on leadership, coaching, family and community. Everything I learned here has translated to my entire life.”

Cedric Dempsey, the man who lured Lute away from Iowa, spoke about how it all happened. Current, UA AD Dave Heeke talked about how much he has impacted the UA athletic program. His best friend, Paul Weitman, spoke about those long pregame walks.

Andre Iguodala, who played two seasons for Lute, likened him to a CEO or a powerful, businessmen, shaping his workers into powerful forces.

“Coach O is one of the best venture capitalists that I’ve ever seen,” Iguodala said, “being able to identify a piece of coal and mining it into a diamond.”

Former Assistant coach Jim Rosborough waxed poetic for more than 10 minutes, talking about their glorious time at Iowa where Lute guided the Hawkeyes to a Final Four in 1980 and then another three at Arizona.

His grandson, Matt Brase, spoke for the family and the importance family played with Lute.

“He was a blessing to us all,” Brase said. “We’re extremely grateful.”

In a letter to Lute, Brase said, “Thank you for being the best grandpa, friend, teacher, Papa. Thanks for the principles in lifelong lessons.”

Lessons, indeed.

“It’s one of the greatest honors of my life to be on stage today in this arena to speak about a man who for many of us made all this possible,” said former UA All-American Jason Terry.

It was an event, Terry said, he’ll never forget.

And many won’t soon – if ever – forget Robert Luther Olson.

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