Jim Rosborough is neither gone nor forgotten. The former Arizona basketball assistant coach – it’s the “former” part that has been the root of the offseason basketball discussion – was greeted with one of the loudest ovations Sunday at a reunion game at McKale Center.
And this was on an afternoon when fans got to cheer for Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott, Richard Jefferson and Gilbert Arenas, Miles Simon and Jason Terry.
“It was heartwarming,” Rosborough said. “Today was very, very nice.”
Coach Roz – how can you not still call him coach? – was the assistant bumped aside after last season when Lute Olson cleared the way to bring back Kevin O’Neill.
O’Neill, intense and defense-minded, is a terrific addition, even if Rosborough is a regrettable subtraction.
Fans at Sunday’s Lute Olson Classic seemed to understood the nuances of the transaction.
When the 1997 national championship team was introduced at halftime, the crowd of 8,101 burst into applause at the mention of Rosborough’s name.
As the applause began to subside, he waved to the crowd, which pumped up the volume again. Again, the noise started to wane, only to increase and persist as he acknowledged the ovation.
“I think going back to when I started my coaching career at a junior high in Chicago in 1970, I have always conducted it in a really classy way for the kids,” said Rosborough, who spent 18 years at Arizona as an assistant of Olson’s.
“I have been here for half of my working life and I felt I have done a pretty decent job. I tried to make sure the kids got as much of me as they could, and I was always there for the guys and tried to do as much as I could for the team.
“That was maybe what the crowd was recognizing.”
Rosborough, 62, stayed on in an administrative role within the athletic department. Part of his duties will be serving as a liaison to former athletes, including the basketball players whose lives he will continue to touch.
“My favorite part of the whole day was when coach Roz got his standing ovation,” Terry said.
“It almost brought tears to my eyes. He’s the reason I made it this far. . . . Roz has always been like a father to me, and nothing about that will change.
“You hate to see him go, but at some point, everyone has to have separations. He will always be around, but he’s moving on up like the Jeffersons and that’s a good deal.”
Rosborough was part of the entire weekend of activities with the 1997 team, including a Friday dinner at Olson’s house.
“It was great,” Olson said of Sunday’s enthusiastic reception for Rosborough. “Everyone recognizes how important a person he’s been for this program, and I think he really appreciated it.”
In addition to the 1997 championship, Rosborough was there for UA’s run to the 1994 Final Four and the 2001 national title game.
“Coach Roz has meant so much to everyone,” Jefferson said.
“He’s the guy you would always go talk to. His office is always open. He’s always keeping in touch. He’s one of the more important people in this whole organization.”
Reggie Geary offered his testimonial.
“No doubt about it, coach Roz is Arizona. For a lot of guys, he’s been special in their lives,” he said.
“Roz wasn’t like a coach who would blast you, ride you all the time. For the most part, he would always be positive with you. The guys who needed that gravitated toward him.”
After the past two uneven seasons, with coaches bemoaning their players’ lack of desire and defense, Olson opted for a different kind of coach in O’Neill.
Roz is still following the No. 1 rule of assistant coaches: loyalty.
He’s a proud man, but hasn’t said a negative public word about what was a bitter pill.
“I have never been a huge ego guy,” he said. “Not once have I tried to put myself out in the forefront. I have told every single person in the program, from the managers to the video coordinators, that the one job we have is to make Lute’s job easier.”
Fans at McKale Center reminded Rosborough on Sunday that his efforts did not go unnoticed. If just for a minute, he was in the forefront. And, coach, it was well-deserved.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org