Lute Olson immortalized forever with statue outside McKale Center
The University of Arizona honored former men’s basketball coach Lute Olson on April 12 with a statue of the coach standing outside the McKale Center, the arena in which Olson solidified his legacy as one of college basketball’s best coaches.
The unveiling took place outside of the Jim Click Hall of Champions and the statue stands outside the Eddie Lynch Athletics Pavilion. Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke and Lute Olson were on hand, among others, for the ceremony.
When Coach “O” had his turn to speak, he was greeted with a standing ovation.
“I’m honored and humbled at this recognition,” Olson said, before adding, “I just wonder if they got the hair right.”
They got the hair right.
Prior to Olson’s speech, the crowd of donors, letter winners, basketball team managers, and other coaches in the athletic department heard from athletic director Dave Heeke and former players Pete Williams, Matt Meuhlebach, and Damon Stoudamire.
Williams, a junior college transfer, played for Arizona during Olson’s first two seasons. Williams cited Olson’s toughness as one of the reasons he was so successful. Williams told a story about how Olson tried teaching the pick ‘n roll by example with an assistant coach. Matt Meuhlebach, a member of the ‘87-’88 Final Four team, spoke about Olson’s legacy. He talked about his teammate Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, and how Kerr runs a 3-2 conditioning drill with the Warriors that Kerr calls the, ‘Lute Olson Drill.’
Damon Stoudamire recalled a meeting he had with Olson and Khalid Reeves. It was in that meeting, according to Stoudamire, that Olson decided to run his offense through his guards. Thus, Guard U was born. Olson decided to make the switch because Stoudamire and Reeves were the ‘Cats best players.
“Damn right we’re the best players!” Stoudamire said he recalled thinking — but not saying out loud at the time.
Heeke compared the statue unveiling to hanging a banner inside the arena, and called the day a, “championship day.”
A motif throughout all three of the players’ addresses was the family aspect brought to the program by Lute and his late wife Bobbi and his current wife Kelly. Heeke echoed that sentiment at the ceremony.
“Coach (Olson) and Kelly were two of the people that I first visited with. I’ll be honest, for someone who has observed him from afar and in a sense idolized him, to feel his presence in the room that you’re in is pretty awe inspiring for me,” Heeke said.
“But then you sit down, and he’s just a regular person that has great stories and is so passionate about what basketball is all about, and really loves this university.”
Dozens of other former players were in attendance, which Heeke stated was a priority when deciding the reveal date. When asked about how easy it was to get so many players back to Tucson, Heeke simply pointed towards Olson.
“That’s because of him; that’s the tie, the bond, the family that makes this place special,” Heeke said.
In 24 seasons as Arizona’s head coach, Olson led the ‘Cats to 23 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, 11 Pac-10 titles, four Final Fours, and Arizona’s lone National Championship in 1997. The statue is being dedicated 30 years after the 1988 Final Four, the first in school history.
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