Schu Strings: Three tier theory

Naturally, the Arizona men's basketball team won't land every recruit it targeted, but now that the summer camps have concluded, the UA's place as a major national power has been confirmed once again. And not as part of a five-year plan, but something far more involved.

When coaches, athletic directors and fans talk in terms of a program's success, they reference the five-year watermark. The thought process is that by five years you should have a pretty good idea whether the program is headed in the right direction. For many individuals, headed in the right direction is a correlation with competing for national honors.

But it is my opinion that the five-year approach is just the first in a three-step process that will ultimately determine the longevity and consistent nature of a program and its coach, especially if the program in question has no real tradition from which to build. In the case of Arizona Coach Lute Olson, a three-tier climb to excellence can be graphed. In the first tier, it became obvious this was a man who put Arizona on the right track. The UA went from a 4-win to 11-win team with basically the same roster in Olson's first season, competed for conference honors shortly thereafter and advanced to the Final Four in his fifth year at the helm.

Certainly, that's putting your mark on the map.

While many coaches can move a team in the right direction, fewer are capable of sustaining a level of consistency. Olson, to some degree, had this problem as well in the second tier, a watermark displayed by roughly five to ten years of success. After the 1988 Final Four experience, or more accurately after 1989, when Arizona hit the UNLV roadblock but was probably the best team in the land, the UA dipped a bit. Even though still seeded high, Arizona wasn't much of a factor come tournament time for the next five years. However, it was strong enough in the regular season to keep its name on the basketball map. And as a result, players took notice.

This success played major dividends in the third stage: elite level success. Since Arizona's 1994 Final Four, with few exceptions it has been in the mix and given fans hope that it could compete deep into the NCAA tournament. More importantly, players have noticed. The UA continues to make its mark by turning overlooked prospects into talented young hoopsters, but additionally it gets serious looks, and often commitments, from some of the nation's top prep talents. However, it took well over five years to get to that point.

Another example of the three-tier system is Mike Montgomery at Stanford. If there was ever an institution that should be awarded for its patience and the dividends it ultimately received in that endeavor, it is Stanford. The Cardinal administration stuck with Montgomery through some tough times early, and now Stanford is routinely a Pac-10 power. As long as Montgomery remains in Palo Alto, that trend will likely continue. One can also make this argument in regards to Gary Williams and his tenure at Maryland.

While I believe it takes more than a decade to build a program from scratch to sniffing title territory, it probably takes that long to demolish one. UCLA is a fine example. The dominant college basketball power in the John Wooden era has been looking up at Arizona for some time now, to the frustration of Bruin faithful. UCLA should be a title contender every year, with legitimate goals for the Elite Eight or higher, but more often than not it levels off around the Sweet 16.

UCLA has shown patience in Steve Lavin, but is he the man to put that once-proud school among basketball's elite again?

Other schools with deep traditions will likely have an easier time rebounding, even though they've experienced some dips with coaching changes and the like. North Carolina will be in the mix again soon. Kentucky seems to have faltered a bit of late, but it seems feasible to anticipate a return to top-notch status at some point in the near future.

At Arizona, the beauty of its place among the elite is that even when Olson eventually steps down, the foundation for greatness has been set. As a result, while maintaining that level of consistency will be difficult, it won't be impossible, as some prognosticators are fond of suggesting.

And the geeks shall inherit the Earth. For those of you on the West Coast, if you caught a somewhat unpleasant whiff of pasty whiteness combined with computer circuitry, it was probably because of geek-heavy events in San Diego and Las Vegas. This was the weekend of Comic-con, the comic book convention monster in San Diego. It was also the weekend of a colossal Star Trek Convention at the Hilton in Vegas. How colossal? Well let me share, since I was there.

No less than Kirk, Spock, Chekov, Sulu and Uhura on the same stage at the same time. And Shatner even gave Nimoy some Lifetime Achievement thingie. Geek overload indeed. (As an aside, Nimoy has donated one million dollars to the Griffith Observatory refurbishing project in Los Angeles).

As many of you know, I have my fair share of geek tendencies, and have some friends who fall under this category as well. So with geek tendencies in hand, it was off to the City of Geek Sin to take in the debauchery that only geeks can profess. Heck, for the escorts, this weekend might have been eclipsed only by the annual computer nerd-fest. Given the nature of the computer industry nowadays, those hard-working women probably welcomed this unexpected windfall. Even though that whole Spock greeting thing would be kinda confusing.

Basically, the convention goes like this. Guests talk a bit on stage, then field some questions from the audience. Now most Trek fans are a bit gun-shy when it comes to grilling the actors. They are in the midst of stardom, after all, and tend to act like it. Many of the fans just wanted to shake the actors' hands. But when it came to the writer/producer, all bets were off. In a moment of sheer Trek convention glory, Brannon Braga, the No. 2 dude in the Star Trek franchise, hit the stage and got verbalized by a barrage of continuity questions, as only true Trek fans could deliver. Why did you kill Kirk in that Next Generation movie? Why did you say the Vulcans made first contact when really it was the Klingons? (This led to a shouting argument among geeks in attendance, while Braga watched horrified from the stage).

But the best was when the gay man launched into his litany about how Star Trek has been a frontrunner in race relations, but woefully behind the curve when it comes to the representation of a major gay character on the show. This guy was a total plant. Question way too well formulated. This is the second time I've encountered this query at a major Trek convention. And it was apparent the fans in attendance were none too pleased. Probably not so much because of the nature of the question, but because they felt this wasn't the time and place to espouse one's agenda.

All told, I'd be willing to bet there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 fans at this event. Seven-thousand hardcore nuts, traveling from all over the world, to watch what they loved. Many dressed up in outrageous costumes. Such crazy people. Kind of like Saturday at the football stadium.


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