Lute Olson, the Hall of Fame coach who transformed Arizona into a basketball powerhouse, has died at age 85. His family says he died Thursday evening.
Sean Miller has been fired as the head coach of Arizona, the school announced Wednesday. Assistant coach Jack Murphy will take over as interim head coach.
During his time at Arizona, Lute Olson turned the Wildcats into an elite basketball program and helped establish a spirited, energetic, and competitive atmosphere at McKale Center. This was reflected in the sellout crowds that the team often generated and the respect the program has received from a large segment of the Tucson community.
In 1997, Olson led the Wildcats to their first national championship as a college program, becoming the first team in NCAA history to beat three number one seeds in the process. It was a thrilling run, especially since the Wildcats had struggled in previous years to make it to the Final Four.
The 1997 national championship team was the product of a highly aggressive recruiting strategy that allowed Olson to find players from all over the country and across the Southwest. It was also a testament to his ability to develop talent and build strong relationships with the players he coached.
Over the course of his 24 seasons as head coach at Arizona, Olson amassed a record of 589-187 and guided the Wildcats to four Final Four appearances and 15 Pac-10 regular season and tournament titles. He is also one of only 25 Division I coaches to win 700 or more games and has a winning percentage that ranks among the top 30 in NCAA history.
His coaching career is a rich and rewarding story. He was a successful high school coach and junior college coach before taking his first Division I job at Long Beach State in 1973.
He also coached at Iowa for nine years and led the Hawkeyes to the Final Four in 1980, a feat that has not been replicated since. It was a great way for Olson to start his college coaching career and he quickly parlayed that success into the job at Arizona in 1983.
In his first season as Arizona’s head coach, Tommy Lloyd led the Wildcats to a 33-4 record and a trip to the Sweet 16. He was named Associated Press national coach of the year and received numerous other honors. He led the Wildcats to a Pac-12 tournament title and was the first team in conference history to win 18 conference games.
He was also a winner in the classroom, leading the Wildcats to a 3.04 team GPA in the Fall 2021 semester and an all-time program best 3.14 in the Spring 2022 semester. He also led the Wildcats to NABC Team Academic Excellence, marking the first time that the program had earned this honor since the award began in 2012-13.
A longtime assistant coach at Gonzaga, Lloyd was hired by Arizona in April 2021 after former head coach Sean Miller faced years of NCAA investigations. During his 22 seasons at Gonzaga, he helped develop 19 All-Americans and 15 conference players of the year. He was also part of five 30-win seasons and two appearances in the NCAA championship game.
During his time at Gonzaga, Lloyd was known as one of the premier international recruiters in the country. He has brought a number of foreign prospects to the Zags, including current players Martynas Arlauskas (Lithuania), Joel Ayayi (France), Oumar Ballo (Mali) and Pavel Zakharov (Russia).
Lloyd’s recruiting style is rooted in building relationships with young men and their families. It’s also about forming trust. He has done that with countless players and coaches during his time in Spokane, as well as his own children, Liam, a 6-foot-5 freshman at Grand Canyon University and Sophia Marie, a 6-year-old daughter.
In 29 years on the collegiate sidelines, Sean Miller has compiled 26 winning seasons and averaged better than 20 wins per year. In addition, Miller has accumulated three gold medals as a member of the USA Basketball program.
During his time at Arizona, Miller built the Wildcats into an elite program with two regular-season conference titles and a pair of Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. He also developed a player development program that has produced numerous players who have gone on to play professional basketball, including a future NBA first-round pick and a national junior college player of the year.
When he first arrived at Arizona in 2010, Miller had a lot of high expectations for his program. He believed that Arizona could be a major contender in the Pac-12, if he was able to build a strong team around its talented roster.
He recruited a group of players that would help the Wildcats win 13 Pac-12 regular-season titles and reach the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Among those players were Kadeem Allen, who grew up in Indianapolis and became an instant starter at point guard in his sophomore season under Miller.
Allen was part of the 2009-2010 recruiting class, which featured forward Mark Lyons, who was a consensus All-American in his senior year. He also starred in the 2010-11 campaign with the Wildcats, leading them to the Pac-10 championship game and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Longtime arizona basketball coach Sean Miller had a big payday in the form of Deandre Ayton, who was the first pick in the 2019 NBA draft. With a national title on the line and an elite-level talent he expected to be a top pick in the NBA, Miller had every reason to give Ayton the best deal possible.
In the meantime, rumors circulated that Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough wanted to trade Ayton. But Williams was able to smooth over the communication problems and Ayton went on to have an incredible season, leading the Suns to the conference finals.
As the Suns’ front office considered the possibility of a trade, they wanted to understand Ayton’s journey and how he got to where he is. They wanted to know where he started and what challenges he had faced along the way.
Then, they would want to figure out how to make him succeed in the NBA. After all, this was a massive investment for the Suns and their fans.
During their research, the Suns uncovered Ayton’s career has been filled with stops and starts, starting with his high school days in San Diego. Ayton transferred multiple times, and he was never fully exposed to what winning at the professional level really looked like.
Ayton eventually landed at Arizona, where he was a star player. He was a big man who possessed the ability to be a force in the paint, but he also showed a knack for the outside shot.
After a slow start in his rookie season, Ayton began to turn things around, and this year, he is back to his old self. He has become the go-to guy for a team that needs a big man to be able to withstand the physicality of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dario Saric.
But that is not all, and the Suns could still use a few more pieces in the paint. They signed JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo last offseason, and those two players have stepped up. But with Booker on the mend and Paul struggling to find his touch, Phoenix isn’t as strong inside and will need more help in the paint.