Coach's Corner: Return to Orange County

"These freshmen and sophomores see what these three seniors have meant to the program and what they have meant to the guys that they have provided leadership to. I've always said that in starting a program, that if you start with good people, that it will continue in that way," Lute Olson said at his Monday press conference. Olson spoke at length about the West Region and his team.

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Question: There has been a lot of talk about how exhausted the players were after Saturday's game. Will that be a factor on Thursday?
Lute Olson: "That game has nothing to do with Thursday. That game was Saturday night. I can't think of a better thing to be than exhausted at the end of a game. You're playing at that altitude...I think it shows you just what kind of condition they are in. So that, in my opinion, has nothing to do with a game played on Thursday other than I'm really pleased that they are in that kind of condition. I'm pleased that Luke Walton is at the point now where he can play that many minutes."

Question: What are your thoughts on the West Regional with some of the biggest names in college basketball?
Olson: "It is, but when you take a look at the other regions, it's amazing how things work out. I don't see many soft touches anywhere. It's obvious to begin with that there were a lot of big name schools in the West , but then you look at the other regions and you're seeing outstanding teams at each of those sites as well.

"To have Roy (Williams) and Coach K (Krzyzewski) meeting in a Sweet 16 game, that's one that you could look at as a national championship game in any other year. Duke seems to be getting better with each outing and we know how good Kansas has been. They are an outstanding basketball team. If you take a look at it, either one of those two could very easily be in a national championship game."

Question: You mentioned Walton's playing time, but how about each of the other starters playing at least 40 minutes Saturday?
Olson: "The primary reason I brought up Luke is that he has been so restricted during the course of the season in terms of the amount of time we've been able to play him in games and use him in practice situations. And for him to be able to do what he did for the length of time he did it is a testament to the type of competitor that he is.

"I said before that you can look at Jason (Gardner) and Channing (Frye) and say that they can go forever, but I was pleased that Ricky (Anderson) and Salim (Stoudamire) could go as hard as they went for as long as they did."

Question: Does the rotation off the bench shrink in the postseason?
Olson: "It shrinks for everyone now because the timeouts are two minutes and 15 seconds. That's the kind of time you would sit them down, let them get some water and relax. Well, that's happening a number of times during the game. Every team is going to have some time decreasing for guys on the bench because you are going to go with the best experience and the best combinations."

Question: Are you and the kids caught up in this like so many of the fans?
Olson: "Oh yes, there is no question. When we schedule tapes at night, we'll do it so it's between (other) games. It's a good way for the kids to pass the time. It's not a case of where the staff is all tied up in it because we're generally tied up with tapes and that kind of thing. Saturday morning I woke up at four o'clock and got a good opportunity to look at what I already knew. But that was a whole lot better of lying in bed not being able to sleep. The coaches' time is spent a whole lot more with the opponents' games, but as far as the players are concerned, the players are big fans."

Question: Has the tournament surprised you so far?
Olson: "The one thing that struck me is that there are no four seeds left in the tournament. Two of the two seeds are gone. When you look at a couple of the game situations yesterday, I don't think that anyone would have thought that Florida would be out of it at this point, or Louisville would be out. I don't think a lot of people would have thought Illinois would be out, but that's the way it goes every year. That's why it's called March Madness I guess.

"You have a one game season. If you play well enough, you get another opportunity at another one-game season. At this points, there are very few teams that have not been stretched to the limit at this point. The two exceptions are probably Pitt and Kentucky. A lot of games have come down, as ours did, to a last-second shot."

Question: What does returning to Orange County mean, especially with your history of high school coaching there?
Olson: "It's such a familiar area because we lived in Orange County for 12 years and I coached on the high school level for seven years. It's a very comfortable feeling for me, much more than at other sites. When you get to the hotel, the only thing that is familiar when I take my long stress control walks is at least I know I won't get lost.

"Loara High School is in the Anaheim School District and is very close to the Pond. We opened the school with no seniors. We had just sophomore and juniors at the time. Anaheim has junior highs. There were no freshmen. We had their first-ever varsity championship there. Then Marina High School a mile or so from the house with ninth graders and three gyms instead of one, so I made the move, which was not easy move to make when all of the kids were returning the next year."

Question: The NCAA Tournament is always about survival. How happy were you to see your senior players survive Saturday?
Olson: "For the seniors, it's really, really special for them because if it's a sophomore there is always next year. This threesome (Rick Anderson, Jason Gardner, Luke Walton) has been so tight through the whole time that they've been playing here, so it's really special to them.

"The other thing that really was obvious was how into the game everybody on the bench was, including Chris Dunn, who couldn't go into the game. If you look back at the tapes, he was really, really involved. It was interesting to see who the first guys were that got to Walton at the end of the game, too. I think it was two freshmen there first.

"I think that's what a program is about. Everyone focuses and really comes together and that pays dividends in years to come. These freshmen and sophomores see what these three seniors have meant to the program and what they have meant to the guys that they have provided leadership to. I've always said that in starting a program, that if you start with good people, that it will continue in that way. We can go back to our first group here and you see guys like Pete Williams and John Edgar, who practically live right next to each other and are very close friends, that kind of leadership paid dividends to Steve Kerr, who was a freshman on that team. That kind of attitude toward team has really carried on through the program. When you look at this year, three years ago, or 10 years ago, you still see the same kind of presence. What happened on Saturday will be something that motivates the younger guys."

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