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Remembering Lute

Locals react to the passing of legendary U of A basketball coach

Lute Olsen's legacy is the transformation of Arizona Wildcats Men's Basketball from an unknown to a national power.

One of college basketball's all-time greatest coaches did more with the men's program than perhaps could have been imagined before he took over.

Olsen guides the U of A to 23 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, 11 PAC 10 titles, 4 Final Four appearances and national title in his 24 years at the helm.

Arguably the greatest Cats sports figure of all-time passed away on Thursday after reports surfaces of poor health earlier in the week.

Olsen transcended the culture of basketball at the U of A and did more than perhaps any other Wildcats sports figure to expand the school brand across Arizona and throughout the United States.

This goes without saying for what he means to Wildcat alumni and sports fans, as well as sports fans in general here in the Desert Southwest.

News 11 Sports reached out to former U of A Yuma Alumni Chapter President Jeff Byrd and fellow Wildcat alumnus and AWC Head Men's Soccer Coach Kenny Dale for their personal reflections of the legendary coach.

Byrd has hosted Olsen at a number of Yuma-based alumni functions and has been impressed every time they crossed paths.

"It's very sad. Lute Olsen was not only a class act, he was a gentleman. There are Wildcats across the country that are mourning right now. He literally put the University of Arizona and Arizona on the map."

Dale was once a student athlete at the U of A who got to witness some of Olsen's interactions with his players on campus.

"He was a great man. He didn't succumb to the temptations of a lot of division 1 coaches to take shortcuts or try to create an unfair advantage for himself. And he really, really, I think had the players best interest in mind in all of his decisions."

Through all the public success Olsen brought to Cats Men's Basketball, both men will alway remember the hall of fame basketball coach as a genuine person who cared for others behind the scenes.

"Sometimes, when you meet famous people, they're not exactly what you expect. But, Lute Olsen, it was the real deal, genuine and you knew when you were talking to him. He was looking at you straight in the eye and you had his full undivided attention."

"He was very good teacher. I think as a coach, if you're an effective teacher, you'll be an effective coach. And I would watch him before and after his practices interact with players and you can tell the players wanted the information and they trusted the information. And he was good at imparting just the right information."

Olsen was inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Wildcats Athletics erected a statue of the coaching legend outside of the McKale Center in 2018.

Olsen was recently moved to hospice care after being hospitalized last year due suffering a 2nd stroke.

The Cats legendary coach passed away at the age of 85.

College Sports

Rob Fram

Rob Fram rejoined the KYMA News Team in February 2010.

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