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Olson expects ‘emotional night’ during final salute

Citizen Staff Writer



Former Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson expects to find closure Thursday night when he is honored at halftime of UA’s game against California.

“It’s going to be a very emotional night from my standpoint,” Olson said Wednesday afternoon, meeting with selected media members at McKale Center.

“I guess it’s the reality that the time here is done. It will be an opportunity for me to express very briefly my appreciation to the great fans and following we have been blessed with during the time I have been here.”

Nearly two dozen former players and managers are scheduled to attend, including Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, Joe McLean, Matt Muehlebach, John Edgar, Joseph Blair and Pete Williams.

“The fact that it will just be a finality to it, that will be very obvious to me,” Olson said.

Olson, 74, retired Oct. 23 because of health reasons, including heart problems and dealing with a stroke that affected the front part of his brain. He coached for 24 seasons at Arizona, not including last season when he was on a health-related leave of absence.

“It’s been difficult from the health aspect, in terms of getting all the medications straightened out and going through more tests than I would like to tell you about,” Olson said of his time in retirement.

“But everything is going along very well right now.”

It’s not just his health that has made retirement difficult. Olson, who said he exercises regularly and frequently watches basketball on television, said he sometimes struggles to fill the hours in a day.

“I’ve talked to coaches before who said retirement is a very difficult time,” Olson said.

“You get so involved in being involved and being busy. That will be my next thing now, to make sure I can do the things I need to do to be productive.”

Olson, who has attended the past several Arizona home games, remains involved in fundraising for the Arizona Cancer Center and other worthy causes.

Because of Olson’s unplanned retirement and health issues, Thursday night will be the first public event in which the Hall of Fame coach will be honored.

This might be a time when fans see a different side of Olson, famously stoic and private, especially if there is a huge outpouring of affection from the crowd.

“It’s never been a case of where I felt like I was very much of an outgoing personality,” Olson said. “Sometimes people say aloof and other things. It’s not by design.”

Olson was asked Wednesday about how quickly his quarter-century at Arizona – including 589 victories, four Final Fours and the 1997 national championship – went by.

“You look back on it, it’s like the blinking of an eye,” Olson said.

Salute to Lute

Citizen Staff Report

Expect a lot of UA students to dress up like Olson on Thursday.

Zona Zoo, the school’s student section, said it will hold several contests to honor the retired coach, judging students on their overall imitation of Olson, including his hair.

Contestants must register at the Zona Zoo student entrance no later than 5:30 p.m. at McKale Center. They’ll also be expected to answer Olson trivia.

The top five look-alikes will win front-row seats to Thursday’s game at 8:30 p.m.

During UA’s extended halftime show, Zona Zoo students will make a presentation to show their appreciation for Olson.

Before the game, all students will be given Olson commemorative rally towels to wave throughout the game.

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