Olson fired up for new season Print
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Tuesday, 21 October 2008 15:01
NCAAB Headline News


 TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -As always, Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson is looking forward to the upcoming season.
This time, he expects to be a part of it.
The 74-year-old Hall of Famer is coming off the most troubled season in his 25-year tenure at Arizona. A seemingly endless soap opera began in November, when Olson requested a personal leave of absence for undisclosed reasons. Olson returned to the helm shortly after Arizona was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tourney last spring.
The difference this autumn? Olson said he feels physically able to handle the grind of coaching.
``I think I would say on that, the difference is last year was last year, and I was having problems with the energy level early,'' Olson said during a 38-minute session with reporters at the team's media day Tuesday. ``So I feel much more energized at this point.''
eak. But the Wildcats went 19-15 last season and finished seventh in the Pac-10 - their worst showing since 1982-83, the year before Olson arrived from Iowa.
Olson believes he's up to the job. And so do his players, who have noticed a change in their coach.
``I see a glow in his eyes,'' junior forward Jordan Hill said. ``He's always energetic. He's happy. He's smiling. When you see that smile, it brings a smile to our face just to know that he's doing OK.''
Olson wore his trademark blue blazer, a white button-down shirt and a red striped tie. His voice sounded a bit raspy at times, but he has a good reason.
``You'll have to excuse my voice,'' Olson said. ``You can tell it's the start of the practice season.''
This was Olson's first news conference since last April 1, when he sparred with reporters and provided few specifics for the leave, the subject of endless rumors and speculation in this basketball-obsessed city.
``I've wished I had that hour back many times,'' said Olson, who generally has cordial relations with reporters.
When Olson stepped away last fall, it started an unimaginable chain of events at the once-mighty hoops program in the desert.
Assistant coach Kevin O'Neill, who took over as interim coach, was soon designated Olson's permanent successor.
f the season. Five months after the contentious divorce was finalized, Olson announced that he was engaged to Kelly Pugnea, 47, a Tucson resident for 25 years.
After Olson returned in April, O'Neill left the program, and fellow assistants Miles Simon and Josh Pastner soon followed.
Last month, the university reported a possible minor NCAA recruiting violation by Olson, who called it ``an unfortunate and regrettable error.''
With so much attention focused on Olson, the Wildcats received little attention on the court last season, and that might be the only positive.
Thanks in part to a formidable schedule - the Wildcats played eventual Final Four teams Kansas, Memphis and UCLA on the road - Arizona drew its 24th straight NCAA tournament appearance. The Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the first round.
Given the events of the last year, it's no wonder Olson is looking forward to the season opener against Florida Atlantic on Nov. 17, which is part of the NIT season tip-off.
But he said he's not quite ready for a game - nor is his team.
``Not yet,'' he said with a chuckle.
The Wildcats have to replace their leading scorer, guard Jerryd Bayless, who left for the NBA after one unhappy season. Arizona will lean heavily on the trio of Hill and swingman Chase Budinger and point guard Nic Wise to lead a young team that has seven freshmen or sophomores on scholarship.
breaking in a new staff - associate head coach Mike Dunlap and assistants Russ Pennell and Reggie Geary, a former Wildcat player.
``It's been a different kind of situation, obviously,'' Olson said.
 

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