In his first game as a Wildcat, Sean Elliott embarrassed UNLV with 17 first-half points and prompted Rebel coach Jerry Tarkanian to ask, "Who is this guy?"
It wasn't long before everyone would know about this 6-8 wing forward from Tucson, Ariz. I remember when Sean Elliott joined the Arizona Basketball team.
I have always been a huge UA fan, but Arizona Basketball had not yet realized much success back in 1985. Elliott would change all that and help propel Wildcat basketball into the national limelight. However, before Elliott would become a star performer he would have to learn how to play defense.
I attended practices even back then, and when Elliott was a freshman I remember Lute Olson stopping practice to make a point of criticizing Elliott's lack of defensive effort.
"Sean Elliott, you play defense like a girl," Olson said. "Quit bouncing around and get up in your man's face."
Like so many incoming freshmen, Elliott had never learned how to play defense. He'd been a star "offensive" performer at Cholla High School in Tucson and had little concept about the importance of play on the other side of the court. After all, he was the scoring leader of his team. During his time at Cholla, Elliott broke the Arizona state career scoring record (since broken by Mike Bibby) and went on to lead Cholla deep into the state playoffs as senior.
He didn't play defense until he joined the Arizona Wildcats.
Defense would eventually become a serious part of Elliott's game, but not in the beginning of his UA career.
Elliott had a stellar freshman campaign and helped lead the Wildcats to their first Pac-10 Championship. The UA also earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament field. At the end of the season, Elliott and teammate Steve Kerr were a part of the USA team that won the World Championships along with David Robinson and Mugsy Bogues. Arizona coach Lute Olson coached the USA team.
Kerr tore a ligament in his knee during the World Championships and had to sit out the next season. Elliott filled in and played some point guard at times during the season. The Wildcats went to the NCAA Tournament again, but Kerr was sorely missed during the season.
Elliott led the Wildcats in scoring four consecutive seasons. As a junior he helped guide the UA to its first NCAA Final Four, where they lost to Oklahoma in the semifinals.
Elliott already had a memorable career at the UA, but as a senior he established himself as a true "superstar" by providing moments I'll never forget.
I remember the afternoon of February 18, 1989 when Elliott eclipse the Pac-10 career scoring record previously held by Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar). And who was Arizona's opponent that afternoon? None other than UCLA, Alcindor's alma mater. The score: Arizona 102, UCLA 64.
I remember Elliott breaking the UA career scoring record, held previously by another Elliott, Bob (Big Bird) Elliott.
Most of all, I remember Elliott's last game as a Wildcat.
Arizona lost on a last-second three-pointer by Anderson Hunt as UNLV beat the UA 83-82 in the NCAA West Regional semifinal, denying Elliott and his teammates another shot at winning a national championship.
I remember Elliott's disappointment, and his mother Odie Mae comforting her sobbing son as the media documented his sorrow.
Elliott won the John Wooden Award in 1989 as the College Player of the Year and was chosen by San Antonio with the third pick in the NBA draft.
Except for the 1993-94 season when he played for Detroit, Elliott spent his entire pro career with San Antonio and went on to have an All-Star career. He even became the Spur's "defensive stopper" and hit a critical three-pointer while falling out of bounds that helped to lift San Antonio past Portland in the Western Conference Finals and ultimately to the NBA Championship.
At Arizona, many great players have followed in the footsteps of Sean Elliott and the Wildcats have won a national championship that eluded Elliott during his career. But it was Sean Elliott who got it all started.
I'll NEVER forget Sean Elliott.