Hall of Fame NCAA basketball coach Lute Olson, who coached the Arizona Wildcats for 24 seasons, died on Thursday. Olson was hospitalized last year after suffering a stroke and was recently transported to hospice care. He died at 85 years old.
Olson is responsible for building Arizona’s college basketball program, amassing a 589-187 record during his tenure at the university.
He took the Wildcats to four Final Four appearances, 23 consecutive NCAA tournaments and 11 Pac-10 titles. He led his team to the program’s lone national title in 1997, knocking off the defending champion Kentucky Wildcats.
In 2002, Olson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In addition, he was also inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, and a statue of Olson was built outside the McKale Memorial Center in Tucson in 2018.
Prior to his inductions, Arizona’s basketball court inside McKale was named in his honor in 2000. The following year, it was renamed the “Lute and Bobbi Olson Court” to pay tribute to his late wife. Over the course of 34 years, Olson had a career record of 780-280.
Upon hearing of his death, several former Wildcats players praised their coach on social media.
“Without you there would be no me. Rest peacefully.” – Jason Terry
“It’s rare that a man is a Hall of Famer and still underappreciated. I’ll always feel like you never got the credit you deserved as a leader, family man, grandfather, coach and as a mentor. I love you Coach O.” – Richard Jefferson
“Thank you coach for taking a chance on some skinny kid from Chandler, AZ. I owe my whole basketball career to you and what you taught me. I’m gonna miss you.” – Channing Frye
“I told Denny Crum I was coming to Louisville. Midnight Lute called. We talked for 3 hrs! He Changed my mind, then changed my life! He never truly in my eyes got the credit he deserved. It’s okay though! Love you Papa Lute!” – Damon Stoudamire
In addition, Golden State Warriors head coach and Chicago Bulls champion Steve Kerr paid tribute to Olson in a tweet Thursday. He played for Olson from 1983 to 1988.
“It’s hard to put into words how much Lute Olson meant to me. He was an amazing coach & a wonderful man. Being part of the U of A basketball family changed my life forever. I will never forget Coach O, those awesome nights at McKale and all my teammates. Thank you Coach. I love you!” Kerr wrote.
Similarly, the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury also issued their own joint statement.
“While his Hall of Fame career will be remembered for the championship program he built in Tucson, his legacy is rooted in the mentor he was to young men, the teacher he was on and off the court, and the difference he made in the lives of so many,” the statement reads.