Credit to Tommy Lloyd for allowing the greatest player in the history of Arizona basketball to be part of the Wildcats’ busy schedule leading up to Thursday night’s Sweet 16 game with Houston at San Antonio.
Sean Elliott, the Cholla High School and Arizona great who now calls San Antonio home, met the Wildcats on Wednesday at the AT&T Center where his San Antonio Spurs play. He is a TV analyst of the Spurs, of whom he won an NBA title with in 1998-99 with Steve Kerr as one of his teammates.
“Basically I just said, ‘You gotta block out the noise. Don’t listen to anybody else around you. Don’t listen to all the praise. Don’t listen to the criticism. It’s you guys in the locker room, that’s who’s gotta get it done. It’s not somebody on television. Don’t fall for that trap,'” Elliott said he told the Wildcats while interviewed on Thursday afternoon by the San Antonio and Tucson media.
Elliott and Kerr were part of Arizona’s first Final Four team in 1987-88, coached by the late legendary Lute Olson. It still gets to him and his teammates losing to Oklahoma in the national semifinals at Kansas City.
Elliott mentioned he also said to Arizona’s players, “‘Play for each other and have fun. If you do that, then you’re going to win.’ … I had a lot to say. I just tried to keep it simple and just talk about the basics and to enjoy the moment. Leave it all out there When we get together, that group (from 1987-88), we still hurt from losing that semifinal game in ’88.
“We still feel like we were the best team in the country, and we didn’t get it done. It still stings a little bit after this long. … We should’ve been that team to get it done for Lute first.”
That distinction goes to the 1996-97 team, which won the national title 25 years ago at Indianapolis with Elliott, Kerr and Jud Buechler in attendance.
Elliott will be in the arena to watch the Wildcats play Houston on Thursday night.
In addition to speaking with Arizona’s players, Elliott also spent time Wednesday watching Lloyd and his staff in their film session and workout.
“I told (Lloyd) that I appreciate the guys playing for each other and it seems like they play for the guy to the right and left of them, and I think those are the same kind of similarities we had back in the day,” Elliott said. “I got a chance to watch them and the coaching staff in their film session, and I was just really impressed. He was getting after people. They were paying attention to detail and I really appreciated how he handles his team.”
Elliott mentioned he talked to Lloyd about his approach to build the team first rather than try to highlight one-and-done players.
“I was frustrated because we were just a revolving door and turnstile of talent,” Elliott said of what occurred during some of Sean Miller’s tenure, although he never mentioned Miller by name. “The way we got it done back in the day was we were team-building. That’s what Coach Olson did, and we got away from that the last couple years. (Lloyd) totally understood where I was coming from. Again, I’m just happy that they’re back on the map and they’re doing it the way it’s supposed to be done.”
Elliott also mentioned that he believes Olson “would be thrilled” with Arizona’s style of play.
The Wildcats average 84.6 points per game, which was the kind of output the Wildcats posted when Olson was coach.
“I wish Coach was around to see this team, because again, it’s putting the program back to where it should be,” Elliott said. “I know that from watching Coach Lloyd and his coaching style that Coach would be over the moon with the job that he’s done, and the way he treats his players. It’s really good.
“(Lloyd’s) film session was great. He wasn’t soft on his guys. He was on them (saying), ‘If we don’t do this, we’re going to get our butts kicked. We gotta be ready to play.’ He wasn’t sugarcoating anything. He wasn’t pampering guys. He was straight-forward and honest. There was a lot of attention to detail.”
Elliott went so far as to mention Lloyd in the same breath with some of the coaching greats he’s been around, including Olson, Larry Brown, Gregg Popovich, John Thompson and Mike Krzyzewski.
“I’ve been around all of these Hall of Fame coaches, and Coach Lloyd was very impressive,” Elliott said.
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.