Five reasons the future is bright, Part III

In the third of a five-part series previewing the future of the Arizona Basketball program, Inna Lazarev takes a look at the family atmosphere surrounding UA basketball and how Sean Miller has not only embraced the past, but used it to guide him in paving the way for the future.

Reason #5: They've Got Game

Reason #4: Recruits Who Help Recruit

Reason #3: Restoring the Family Tradition

During his Hall of Fame career at Arizona, Lute Olson put together a blueprint for how to run a highly successful basketball program. One of the most important aspects of that success had nothing to do with X's and O's or recruiting; it was the family atmosphere that Lute and his wife Bobbi established.

In the tumultuous time between Lute Olson's last game and Sean Miller's first, the traditional family environment of Arizona Basketball was lost. However, those days are quickly coming to a halt in Tucson, because what might be most assuring about Miller's reestablishing of the UA program isn't what he's done on the court, but his insistence on making the Arizona program a family once again.

Sean Miller not only sees the significance of the proud Arizona family tradition, but also understands the importance of keeping it intact.

"I don't think that we necessarily have to restore it, as much as just embrace what's happened here in the past," Miller denotes. "I've said it many times that our future is really tied to our great tradition, having all of the players and coach Olson feel good about what we're doing and how we're doing it.

"To have their support during this path that hopefully leads us back to that type of success, that's really, really important for us, to reestablish Arizona as a power of college basketball. If we're not something right now, we're not that. That's what we're trying to become again."

Programs around the country that are known as powerhouses tend to share a tight-knit bond that can only be compared to other admired programs. The backdrop of family environment that has swarmed McKale since the Olson days is something that the new staff has inherited and is working to strengthen.

"I learned a lot about the family atmosphere here when we had the former players come back," attests assistant James Whitford.

"We had the Lute Olson celebration and spending a lot of time with guys, from Kenny Lofton to Harvey Mason to Steve Kerr and Luke Walton. Those guys speak so highly of Coach O and I respected him from afar but it was really that day talking to 15-20 guys that my respect for him went up five folds.

"Those guys revere him in a great way; it speaks highly of Coach O. It's important that when our players leave, they feel as good about the program as Coach O's players did."

With Olson's program as the perfect template, Arizona's current staff has its standards set high.

"At coach Olson's retirement ceremony, you could really get a great feeling of the family atmosphere," says assistant Archie Miller. "It's something that we're obviously proud of, and once you inherit something like that, you want to keep it going."

Because of its tradition and history as a strong family unit, the University of Arizona basketball program maintains a strong reputation of alumni involvement. An impressive number of former players are still heavily involved with the program; whether it's from a relationship standpoint, community involvement, or financial assistance.

Former Wildcats can be found cheering on their squad at practically every home game and several have made appearances in the locker room at half time and on the practice court to instill extra motivation.

That practice court, formally known as the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium, was a gift from former player Richard Jefferson, who recently donated $3.5 million dollars from his own pocket in order to help his former school.

"The university and the basketball program at Arizona did so much for me when I was in school that I knew it was time to give back," Jefferson says. "It's great being able to help out the current team and to be able to give them something that I wish we had when I was in school."

The dedication and commitment that former Wildcats exemplify towards the program they were once a part of speaks volumes about their own experience at the University of Arizona, as well as their investment in the future of the program.

And their loyalty does not go unnoticed.

"The former players really stand out. Those guys were very receptive and welcoming," says Sean Miller.

"They made myself and our staff really feel like each one of them wants what's happened in the past to continue in the future, and their support was really, really appreciated because that's the one unknown when you get to a new place, how close the former players are and how they really deep down feel about their own experience and the program once they're not in it."

"Here you know our fraternity of former players is second to none; there's so many of them doing well and they care so much about the future that to me it's one of the many great parts about being at Arizona."

Talking with the UA coaches, it is not difficult to see how deep the bond really is. Arizona Basketball is not a group of fifteen guys; it is a group of hundreds.

"All the former players and coaches, it was pretty unique to see them all reach out the first couple months," explains Archie Miller.

"And it's very important; one of the reasons that Arizona has been so successful is because of the chemistry and togetherness of the teams. As they move on, it's obviously great to have great players who think of the program the same way and always want to give back to the guys."

"Because of what has been done in the last 25 years by coach Olson and because of the players that have come out of here, it's been such a tight-knit family of players. And that's what you expect," points out Book Richardson.

"The former players are still very much involved with the program and it's extremely flattering. I think the family atmosphere carries over because that's what coach Olson has instilled here."

UA doesn't only have its own model to follow, but also that of Arizona's next opponent, who has established a similar reputation among basketball's elite.

"It's one of the most important things. That's what you have at the programs that are at such a high level right now," Richardson says in regards to the tight-knot bond that seems to be so frequent among successful programs.

"I mention Duke as one of those programs because of the family atmosphere and the family situation there. You know Coach K coaching and his former players are coaching with him, those guys understand, and he does it at such a high level. It's an understanding. Everything that he is involved with, whether it's basketball, whether it's NCAA, it's a family-driven program."

Sean Miler echoes Richardson's statement: "Arizona is such a family atmosphere and only a program like Duke can compare to a program like Arizona," Miller says.

Perhaps nobody understands the importance of family atmosphere better than the father of the program himself, Lute Olson, who is quite happy with the direction Arizona Basketball is heading.

"I'm really pleased that Sean Miller took the job and is at Arizona, because he is a guy that puts an emphasis on the family approach too. His wife is very involved in the games, just like Bobbi was when she was alive," Olson shares.

"I just think it's a great situation for Arizona, but I think also that it's a great situation for coach Miller."

It's a great situation for the whole Arizona family.

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