Recharged Olson looking ahead to next season Print
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Thursday, 22 May 2008 16:58
NCAAB Headline News

 TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -Lute Olson has hardly stopped moving since he returned from his leave of absence seven weeks ago.
``I feel like I have more energy now than I've had for years and years,'' Olson said.
The 73-year-old Hall of Famer is going to need it.
In what amounts to his second rebuilding project at Arizona, Olson has turned over his entire coaching staff in recent weeks. He's been on the road recruiting and is working through a public divorce from his wife, Christine.
He's also planning to write a follow-up to his 2006 autobiography ``Lute! The Seasons of My Life.'' Olson said ``there's probably a pretty good chance'' the sequel will be out in the fall.
``It'll give me an opportunity to tell the true story, as opposed to what people have heard or read,'' Olson said. ``To straighten things out.''
It's a story the Wildcats' fervent followers will no doubt be eager to read. Olson wants to give his version of his most turbulent season - one that ended on Nov. 4, when he took a personal leave of absence.
Olson has declined to discuss the reason for the leave. At the time he returned, he said he had to deal with ``a medical condition that was not life-threatening.''
``It wasn't a case where I had an option,'' said the tanned Olson, who wore a casual shirt, khakis and sandals during an hour-long interview in his McKale Center office with The Associated Press on Thursday.
When Olson stepped away, it started an unimaginable chain of events at a once-mighty hoops program.
Assistant coach Kevin O'Neill, who took over as interim coach, was soon designated Olson's permanent successor.
In December, Olson filed for divorce on the same day he extended his leave through the end of the season. The divorce remains in court, much to Olson's chagrin.
``I'm frustrated by it because it's so obvious to people with any kind of common sense that this should have been settled immediately,'' Olson said.
After Olson returned in April, O'Neill left the program, and fellow assistants Miles Simon and Josh Pastner soon followed.
And then there was the season. The Wildcats went 19-15 and finished seventh in the Pac-10 - their worst showing since 1982-83, the year before Olson arrived from Iowa.
Arizona drew its 24th straight NCAA tournament appearance, extending the nation's longest active streak, but it was eliminated by West Virginia in the first round.
Athletic director Jim Livengood praised O'Neill's efforts, but Olson had a different take.
``It was difficult to see 25 years of hard work almost down the tubes,'' said Olson, who is 589-187 record in 24 years at Arizona and won the 1997 national title.
Once Olson returned, he set about restructuring his staff. He hired Russ Pennell, a former Arizona State assistant coach who is working out of an office that still bears Simon's nameplate. Olson also added former Denver Nuggets assistant Mike Dunlap, who also served as head coach at Division II Metro State.
On Wednesday, Olson filled out his staff with former Wildcat Reggie Geary, who had been head coach at Anaheim in the NBA's Development League.
``This may be as strong a staff as we've ever had,'' Olson said.
Olson's coaches are set. But his roster remains unsettled.
This week, Arizona released signee Emmanuel Negedu from his national letter of intent to play for the Wildcats. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward from Nigeria cited uncertainty over the coaching situation.
Last year's leading scorer, freshman guard Jerryd Bayless of Phoenix, has entered the draft and is a projected lottery pick.
Sophomore swingman Chase Budinger has declared himself eligible for the NBA draft but may return because he hasn't signed with an agent.
Meanwhile, point guard Nic Wise is said to be thinking about transferring, although Olson said there's ``no question'' Wise will be back.
And prize recruit Brandon Jennings has yet to qualify academically.
If Budinger, Wise and Jennings are in the fold, the Wildcats could contend for the conference title. If they aren't, it could be another long season in Tucson.
Olson is optimistic.
``It's going to be one of the most exciting teams to watch that we've had here in a long time,'' Olson said. ``They're going to be very, very young. But they're going to be super quick.''
There's been speculation that Olson is returning to the bench because he needs the money, or because he's concerned about his legacy.
Olson says he came back because he wants to coach. He's signed through the 2011 season but expects to coach two or three years beyond that.
``I love doing what I'm doing and I've never felt that I've had to go to work a day in my life since I started coaching,'' he said. ``I have a passion for it and still have the passion for it.''
 

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