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Olson uses Europe trip for bonding

Citizen Staff Writer

It was a cheery summing-up Lute Olson gave to the media yesterday, and no wonder.

His team will be loaded next year. He’s bringing in some of his best recruits ever and with a contract lengthened through 2011, he’ll get to enjoy it.

But the extension chord wasn’t the only happy note sounded by the Arizona basketball coach.

The Wildcats will set out May 21 on a two-week tour of Europe, and if you’ve been a fan very long, you probably know Lute has put some dynamite teams on the floor in the seasons following such journeys. UA’s combined record after five overseas trips is 135-31.

“It’s a bonding experience,” Olson said, listing that as the No. 1 benefit. “The cultural experience is wonderful, and the thing I would put third is the ability to play basketball over there.”

He expects UA to play 10 games. The team will fly to London and go directly to Belgrade. It will be in Belgrade three nights and play two games. That’s the Serbia-Montenegro hometown of junior Ivan Radenovic.

“Ivan’s mom will cook typical Serbian meals for the team, and I know they’ll enjoy that,” Olson said.

The team will visit four cities in Italy – Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome – then go to Barcelona and Sitges in Spain, then Paris before heading home.

After all that bonding and culture, watch out.

“We’re going to be very quick next year,” Olson said. “And we’ll be a much, much better shooting team. The guys are excited about the new players coming in (chiefly Chase Budinger and Nic Wise). They know about the recruits’ abilities and that they’re the kind of players who’ll fit into our team concept.

“So we’ll be quick, with good size and an exciting team to look forward to.”

Olson at full grin is something to behold.

When somebody kidded that he’d be about 100 years old when the new contract ends, the Hall of Fame coach smiled broadly and quipped, “And there’ll be an extension on that one, too.”

Olson recalled when he was in Iowa and his late wife, Bobbi, commented once, “Lute has created a monster here.

“That’s one statement she couldn’t forget,” he said. “But I hope we have created a monster here in Tucson. It’s an indication that people are interested in what you do. I’m proud of what we do and hope to continue it for a long time. We’re not going to stop. We expect to be successful.”

His 2005-06 season might have been a roller-coaster ride. UA finished 20-13, eliminated from the NCAA Tournament Sunday by No. 1 seed Villanova 82-78. “But a lot of schools would settle for 20 wins and a trip to the NCAAs,” Olson said.

And if the coach is right, folks, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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