This column originally ran in the October issue of Cat Tracks Magazine.
This was before ESPN, USA Today and the explosion of college basketball. It was before games were on seven days a week and highlights were shown on SportsCenter and reported on 24-hour sports talk radio networks. What few games were shown were on channel 13 or even PBS of all places. All I knew at this time was the Wildcats weren't in the tournament. Other schools were on television. The Wildcats were little more than the team I would see with my dad and get player cards of from police officers.
Lute Olson changed that.
I don't remember Olson being hired, but I remember fiddling with my rabbit ears to tune in games. Fighting static and snow to see the action. I remember sitting in front of a bank of TVs at an electronics store and watching the NCAA selection show for the first time. I knew Arizona had a good chance at getting in and then ran around the store until I found my dad to tell him the good news. The UA had earned a berth.
Over the years Olson's teams have been an integral part of my life. Olson gave the program and the school legitimacy, and in a way gave me a sense of legitimacy. I was rooting for a winner. One of the best basketball schools in the nation was in my hometown.
I stayed up late to watch the Wildcats fall to Alabama in the tournament. I was at McKale for the overtime heartbreaker to UTEP. I watched in disbelief as the Wildcats made it to the Final Four in '88 and looked on in frustration as the shot wouldn't fall against Oklahoma.
I watched games at McKale and on television. The season tickets I received as a Christmas present are still among my fondest gifts. There were trips to Charlotte, Pauley and Phoenix. In college I found a secret to ensure I got student tickets every year. And, of course, there was '97.
I had hats, shirts and shorts. A UA ball cap has been a part of my wardrobe for 15 years. A lot of this is due to Lute. My family bonded over Wildcat games. Dad would take me to games. My brother and I would relive moments on the Nerf hoop. Even my mom, who was never a basketball fan, loved the Cats, although I suspect she had a little crush on the coach.
Before joining Cat Tracks I'd travel on business, and the Wildcat basketball program was a popular topic of conversation. Everyone wanted to know about Olson and the Cats. From Ohio to Missouri to New York and Chicago, people would find out I was from Arizona and wanted to chat.
Since joining Cat Tracks I have been fortunate to deal with Coach Olson on a frequent basis. I once had breakfast with him and it was all I could do not to yell, "you're Lute Olson. This is so cool!"
Coach Olson was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame a few weeks ago. In a business where family often comes second to the game, Olson skipped the prestigious ceremony to attend his son's wedding in Italy. It is this type of class and dignity that he has lent to the community.
Lute Olson is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but he's been in my hall of fame for years.
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