Arizona Basketball

Sean Elliott: NBA All-Star, All-American, now a UA College Graduate

Sean Elliott figured he had “no more excuses” to finally get his University of Arizona degree. Finally? Well, as he put it, it was the “38-year plan” and about time to make his mom proud, Lute Olson proud and himself proud.

After all, he was the last in his family to get a college degree – given his kids already had.

“When I went to Arizona, way back in ‘85 when I started, the whole purpose was to get my degree,” Elliott told a few local media on the eve of getting his degree in Interdisciplinary studies. He conducted the Zoom in part because he is not able to attend graduation this weekend.

Sean Elliott via Zoom.

Back in 1985, it was only a dream to be an NBA player. In that time, he became arguably the best UA men’s basketball player in school history.

“Coming from Tucson, I just really never imagined that my career would go the way that it has gone,” he said. “I entered school to get my degree first and that was really my mother’s main goal. She was like, you know, you got to get your degree no matter what.”

He procrastinated “and found every excuse in the book not to go back.”

He lacked 27 credits. But he was too busy.

“Over the years it was always in the back of my mind that I had to complete this, but it seemed like a really daunting task,” he said. “I had a career. Had my kids and a lot going on. I was busy in San Antonio.”

But, he made a promise to his mom, Odimae (who passed away in 2014) and to Lute, who passed in 2020.

“My two primary drivers were my mother and coach Olson and the promises that I made to both of them,” he said.

And so, he’ll get his degree this weekend.

Here is a slightly ended version of the Question and Answers he sat through with a couple of media members.

Q: You needed 27 credits. Did you spread it out through Covid?

A: “I took about two to three classes per semester. The best thing about the whole process, I’ll be honest, I had a lot of fun. It was great. I had a fantastic time. As a matter of fact, when I turned my last paper, I was a little bummed out that I didn’t have any more classes, as crazy as that sounds. Because every class that I had was interesting. It was fun. I had amazing professors; didn’t find one class that I thought was boring or not interesting. Every class kind of just stimulated me and that was the best part to have a lot of amazing professors that kept classes interesting and fun. And I would tell my wife all the time, you know, after listening to electricity, you know, college is made for older people. I don’t think it’s bad for young people like for me, it was just so much fun to go back and continue to learn things and continue to find out or learn things that I didn’t know.”

Q: Was there anything that you learned that has helped you with your current job with the San Antonio Spurs?

A: “A lot of the reading that I did just got me sharper – that’s the biggest thing. A lot of the reading a lot of the writing definitely helped me. Think about how I wanted to form sentences or say what I wanted to say in a more cogent manner. That’s probably the biggest thing.”

Q: You mentioned a number of people – like family members, Lute and your mom – who is most proud right now? You included.

A: “Me, I’ll be honest with you,” he said, laughing. “My whole family, they’re proud and, you know, all my friends too. They all want to throw a party for me or do something. I’m like, no, I don’t need that … there were so many nights where I was reading, writing, working on my computer, having arguments of my wife because she would help edit some of my papers. She’s like,  ‘what is thi? This isn’t a sentence without a comma there? We are you trying to say? All those nights where I just kind of powering through and even if I was on an airplane on the way from one city to another one reading or I’m trying to finish an assignment and get it turned in. I’m just proud that I was able to stick with it and fulfill that promise.”

Q: And your mom and Lute? Would they be proud?

A: “I’ll tell you an interesting story. One time my mom was in San Antonio and she (said) you gotta go back and finish and she was on me about it. I said, ‘Well, okay, Mom, (but) I got a career right now. I don’t have any time for it. My mom brought up a prominent player and said, ‘I guarantee I don’t care what he has and all the money he has. He’s not going to feel as adequate if he doesn’t have his degree.’ I said, ‘Mom, you’re crazy. Just crazy. I mean, why would you even say something like that? And she was right.

“As for Coach Olson I wanted to help bolster coach Olson’s graduation rate, because, you know, I just felt that he deserved that because was he was all about going to class, he wasn’t a guy who would allow you to skip out and not do our work. I talked to him later, numerous times as a coach, I’m gonna go back and do it and he wasn’t in the best of health, and he was so proud. That really, really inspired me so again.”

Q: At any point did the students in the Zoom classes realize they were in class with Sean Elliott?

“I got that a few times,” he said. “I had a few students that said, ‘hey, you know, it’s great that you’re back in school. I can’t believe it, is that you really? Yeah, that’s me.’ And that kind of surprised me because you know, the kids are so young nowadays. I’m figuring out who is going to school right now who knows who I am?”

Q: What would 50-something year old Sean tell 20-year-old Sean now?

A: “So much, but wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all want to go back and talk to our younger selves, and try to fix some of the mistakes that we made throughout the course of life but at the same time, it makes us who we are. I would love to have finished (school) earlier. But when I look at it, realistically, I think that was just gonna be an impossible task for me.  They call us student-athletes that’s what they called us all these years, but we’re really athlete students. That’s what we really are. You know, we basketball took up so much time, the practices, the film sessions, the weights, just the mental and emotional aspect of playing college basketball. It’s really tough to pour a lot of your energy or the rest of what you have into what you want you have to do in in the classroom. So, I probably would have told myself, tell myself to be a little bit more focused on school, but I thought it was doing the best I could at the time.”

Q: And finally, your former teammate and great friend Steve Kerr is back in the playoffs with a chance to win it all again. What are your thoughts?

A: “Steve is an amazing coach. I think if you know the game, you know how he coaches his guys. You see the way they prepare, the way they play together on the offensive on the floor. He’s done an unbelievable job, just absolutely unbelievable. And so, I’m just really proud of him. It’s hard to imagine, you know that those teams that add a team at nine team, all my four years in Arizona and the amazing careers that all those guys are so many of them have had throughout the years. And so when I look at Steve I just you know, he’s obviously one of the guys that you point to and is saying he’s been incredibly successful. (And) I think he’s got a lot more left in the tank. He has USA Basketball coming up. He has a chance to win medals. He’s most likely going to be inducted into the basketball hall of fame when he’s when he’s done. And so, I think she’s had an amazing career and I’ve told him and Bruce Fraser, by the way, the assistant coach there, the (Steph) Curry whisperer, as we call him,. I’ve said, my favorite team is the Spurs. My second favorite team is the Warriors. I’m always pulling for them.”

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