Lute Olson Still Going Strong

While many of his colleagues head back early to get some rest, Arizona head coach Lute Olson is usually in the gym from the start of the first game until the whistle blows to signal the end of the game. He may be turning 72, but he's outworking guys half his age.

HOUSTON – The coaches stand beside one another against the wall and many more line the bleachers. It's after midnight and the ball is still bouncing with many of the nation's top recruits on display.

One assistant coach yawns. Another leaves the gym to head back to his hotel room for some shut-eye. Head coaches are scarce at this time of night, but one Hall of Famer remains in the gym until the last second ticks off the clock.

Lute Olson.

The long-time Arizona head coach will turn 72 in September, but he outworks nearly all of his colleagues on the recruiting trail.

On this day in mid-April, Olson arrived at the gym at 8 a.m. and didn't leave until more than 16 hours later.

``It amazes me," said Arizona assistant Josh Pastner, who is regarded as one of the hardest-working assistants in the country. "But success and excellence is not by accident. The reason he's a Hall of Famer is because of his work ethic."

``I think that's one of the reasons why we've been able to get kids," Olson said. "They know I've been there and seen them a lot before a decision is made. They feel comfortable because they know I know what they can do as a player."

After spending two full days in the gym in Houston, Olson remained to watch one of the Wildcats key targets in an open gym on Monday. Tuesday was hardly a day off.

Olson made use of a private plane, for about the fourth time in his 23-year tenure in Tucson, to make four stops on Tuesday. He went to Nevada, then made a pair of stops in two different towns in Oregon and then finished up in Sacramento, Calif.

Wednesday he was back in Tucson for a fundraiser before leaving for San Diego on Thursday and heading to Phoenix to watch a recruit on Friday. Then he played in a charity golf tournament the next morning before catching a mid-afternoon flight to Las Vegas, where he spent a day and a half driving around the city watching more recruits.

The Easter dinner a few weeks back was postponed until 7:30 p.m. because Olson was out watching potential recruits all day.

``I'd rather be with my family, but they understand because if you're going to be successful – no matter what job you do – you've got to go at it all out," Olson said.

No matter how hard he works, Olson knows that opposing teams in recruiting battles use his age against him, but he maintains that he's not retiring anytime soon.

``I just signed a new five-year deal through 2011," Olson said. "I don't feel my age at all and I don't feel like I've ever gone to work a day in my life."

Some head coaches remain extremely active despite already establishing themselves. UConn's Jim Calhoun is a fixture in April and July. Others, like former Temple coach John Chaney, are nearly invisible.

Olson rarely leaves the gym. Even when his top targets aren't playing, he sticks around in the off-chance that he stumbles on a player he hasn't heard of yet. While many men his age are out on the golf course collecting social security, Olson hasn't slowed down at all.

"I'm not made that way," Olson said. "I have no idea what I'll do when I retire. I have a passion for the game and love to watch the game. If you love what you do, it's not really like work."

The work he's done on the recruiting trail has paid off. He took over a program that was terrible in Tucson more than two decades ago and has turned it into a national power – winning the national championship in 1997.

``A lot of times a ninth-grader catches your eye – like with Chase Budinger," Olson said. "That was one of the reasons why we were able to get Chase, because I saw him when he was in the ninth-grade."

Budinger is an incoming freshman and one of the best forwards in the country. He'll join point guard Nic Wise and developing big man Jordan Hill as a three-man class that Olson is hoping can help Arizona get back to the top of the Pac-10 after an off-year.

However, Olson has already landed one of the top prizes in the Class of 2007 – rising senior guard Jarryd Bayless, a local standout who chose the Wildcats over Texas in a fierce recruiting battle.

``He's always working very hard and is extremely visible," Florida coach Billy Donovan said of Olson. "One thing I've always admired about him is that at 70, he still loves it. It's very impressive."

The most impressive part is that Olson is showing no sign of slowing down.

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