Players and parents all love Lute Olson

One of Arizona's prize freshmen this year is Hassan Adams from Los Angeles, California. His mother, Connie, was not completely convinced about the Wildcats initially. Instead, she wanted to see her son stay home and play in her backyard for UCLA. Then she met Lute Olson for the first time and her mind changed and isn't likely to ever change back. And it has absolutely nothing to do with basketball.

Connie Adams was first introduced to Olson during the Hall of Fame coach's in-home visit with her son. She had let Hassan make a list of schools that he would choose from and then she did the research about the history of the school, who else was being recruited there, the potential for playing time and all about the academics of the schools. Yet, the coaches interested her most.

"I was totally surprised when I met Lute," Connie Adams said. "At first when I found out he was so tall I was like, 'okay?' I had no idea he was that tall. But it was an honor to meet him because I watch college basketball and to know that my son was good enough to play for him was also an honor."

Ms. Adams found Olson to be more accessible than any of the other coaches on her son's list and said she felt the most comfortable about Hassan playing for him.

"(Olson's) personality sold me right off," she said. "He is a genuinely caring person and I was expecting him to be a cut and dry type who would try to 'sell' me on Arizona. Hassan could have gone to Kansas - and I'm from Wichita - but the decision was all his and he just felt the most comfortable on his trip to Arizona."

While accompanying Hassan to his first few days of college this August, Ms. Adams met and bonded with Leonard and Linda Shanklin, the parents of Andre Iguodala, and Chris Dunn's mother also. Since the meeting they have stayed in touch and all seem happy with their son's choices.

"Arizona for me was my pick all along," Iguodala's stepdad Leonard Shanklin said. "It was my first choice. It wasn't Andre's first choice because he always dreamed of playing for Nolan Richardson. But Arizona was my first choice and when Arkansas was out it was Andre's choice too.

"I really liked the way Lute recruited Andre. He never tried to hard sell his program and I've had enough high-pressure sales, so I really respected the way he went about it. I've been promised things in the past and I know that all that glitters isn't gold. I believe Lute is the guy. He's going to do wonders for (Andre)."

The guys who have played for Olson have seen first-hand that he isn't living off of reputation alone. In fact, many of the current Wildcats have been even more impressed with their coach after spending a season or two under his tutelage.

"Coach O is why I came here," said sophomore center Channing Frye. "I came here to get coached by him. I don't understand how he does it, but everyone gets better every day and we keep improving. Whatever he says about me is right. He knows my game better than I do."

Said senior forward Luke Walton, "Coach Olson and his assistants sold me on coming here. I came out on my trip with Ricky and Richard (Jefferson) and Miles (Simon) showed us a good time, but it was Coach who made me want to come here."

Jefferson took it a step further with his words of respect for his former coach.

"When (Olson's wife) Bobbi died the fact that he was so tough really gave us a lot of respect for Lute Olson the man," Jefferson said. "When I get older and have my own family, I've already seen the type of family I want because that's just more of the things you learn from him."

Walton spoke of Olson's ability to get the most out of each of his teams, especially last year's squad that came into the season unranked for the first time in 15 years.

"I knew that we were going to be good and I knew that he would have the freshmen ready," Walton said. "You'd think that everyone else in the country would have thought the same too because of his record, but I guess not."

Simon's former coach at Mater Dei High School, Gary McKnight, has seen three of his players join Olson-coached Arizona teams.

"Anytime a kid goes to play for Lute is great with me," said McKnight, who also coached former Wildcats Reggie Geary and Dylan Rigdon when they were Monarchs.

Perhaps at no time has it been more apparent just how much Olson's reputation as a coach and as a person has spread around the country than with his recent recruiting success. In each of the last three years, Olson and his staff have signed consensus top-five classes and have hauled in the potential No. 1 class in America this year.

"Essentially Coach Olson is a great guy and a great coach and his record speaks for itself," said Ndudi Ebi, the No. 1 ranked forward in the class of 2003. "Knowing he's a great man and a great person and that he respects you first as a person and then as a player and that's why Arizona's the No. 1 school in the country."

Ebi's fellow recruits, America's No. 1 point guard Mustafa Shakur and rising star forward Kirk Walters, chose to become Wildcats based primarily on Olson's reputation and track record.

"I couldn't pass up a chance to play for Coach Olson at Arizona," Walters said, shortly after committing to the Wildcats. "My brother-in-law wanted me to stay and play close to home, but then he told me that the opportunity to get coached by Lute Olson was once in a lifetime. And my dad (Ward Walters) and I both felt very comfortable with him when we came down for my visit."

However, when it comes to people with the most praise for Olson as a coach and as a person, it's hard to top what Connie Adams said about him.

"There is no word that I can say about how proud I am that my son's playing for Lute," she said. "Before Hassan committed, I asked how long (Olson) would stay because I wanted him there the whole time Hassan was in school.

"He looked at me and said, 'Ms. Adams, I'm not going anywhere'. I just smiled and said, 'oh thank you, sir!'"

This story appears in the upcoming basketball yearbook that Cat Tracks is set to unveil in early November. It's a 60+ page magazine filled with in-depth features on the players, coaches and recruits not to mention breakdowns of the upcoming season, schedule and roster.

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