Legendary Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson passes away

Former Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Former Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

After rumors emerge he was gravely ill over the last week, Lute Olson has died at age 85

Olson had a stroke in 2019, and had been battling health issues every since. The former Arizona coach had become a regular at the McKale Center since his departure from the program in 2008, but was noticeably absent over the last year or so. His former players and coaching staff confirmed reports that Olson was fighting for his life over the past few days, and he’s now lost that battle.

Olson helped coach Arizona to its only National Championship in 1997, going 25-9 and 11-7 in the Pac-12. He’s since been inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002, and went 776-285 in 34 seasons at Arizona, Iowa and Long Beach State.

Olson will be missed in Tuscon and across the state of Arizona

Olson’s been honored with a statue outside of McKale Center, as he’s far and away the most accomplished figure in the basketball program’s history. He took four separate Wildcats teams to the Final Four, and won 11 conference championships.

The longtime Arizona coach’s journey to college basketball stardom started with more than a decade at the high school level, and he eventually moved on to the JUCO ranks before getting his chance at the University of Iowa. Olson made Iowa one of the more relevant teams in the Big Ten in the 80’s, leading to Arizona’s interest.

When he finally joined the Wildcats program, Arizona was coming off a dreadful 4-24 season. Just two years later, he won 21 games in a remarkable turnaround, and his forward momentum only continued from there. Over the course of his tenure, Olson coached 34 NBA Draft picks, giving Arizona a reputation as a program that could handle that sort of immense recruiting talent out West.

Our thoughts go out to the Olson family during this difficult time. He will be missed.

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