|With Olson's status uncertain, O'Neill takes over in Tucson|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 06 November 2007 14:43|
One question he couldn't answer: When will Lute Olson return from a personal leave of absence?
No one seems to know when that might be. With the regular-season opener one week away, O'Neill is simply trying to hold the Wildcats together until the Hall of Fame coach comes back.
``The only real difficult thing was realizing that Lute had to take some time off,'' O'Neill said Tuesday at a McKale Center news conference. ``Besides that, I have to commend our team on handling themselves business as usual.
``Obviously, business isn't as usual,'' O'Neill said. ``There is no blueprint. If someone finds one, I'd like to take a look at it.''
In a statement issued by his public relations firm on Sunday, the 73-year-old Olson did not give a specific reason for requesting a leave. He said he wanted to ``reassure everyone that this isn't a health scare, but rather a personal matter that needs my undivided attention.''
The announcement, a few hours before Arizona's exhibition opener against Concordia, sent shock waves through a community obsessed with Wildcats basketball. Local television stations broke into programming Sunday to report the news.
``It's still shocking,'' guard Jawann McClellan said before practice Tuesday. ``We don't know what's going on. We keep hearing that he's going to be back for the first game, but we don't know.''
Arizona opens the regular season against Northern Arizona on Nov. 13.
O'Neill, who worked on Olson's staff from 1986-89, returned to Tucson last spring to replace Arizona longtime aide Jim Rosborough. O'Neill had been a head coach at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern as well as with the NBA's Toronto Raptors.
Olson hired O'Neill to help shore up Arizona's porous defense. O'Neill suddenly finds himself dealing with much more.
He has to think about a starting lineup for Thursday night's exhibition against Team Georgia, and he said there might be changes from Sunday, when McClellan, Jerryd Bayless, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and Mohamed Tangara started. And he has to deal with some of Olson's off-the-court commitments, including a boosters board meeting.
``I have a lot more cell phone messages and calls and stuff like that,'' O'Neill said. ``But not that much.''
O'Neill said he spoke with Olson by phone after Sunday's 68-50 win over Concordia.
``As we go along, I'm sure Lute'll be calling me, but I'm going to let him call me rather than me call him, because I think that would be disrespectful of me after he said he didn't want to be called,'' O'Neill said. ``I want to make this clear: it's his team. If he has something he wants, we're certainly going to do it.''
But O'Neill is already making his presence felt. On Tuesday, he said the team would practice for three hours, longer than Olson's typical workouts.
In another change, O'Neill bantered with reporters accustomed to Olson's more formal approach. O'Neill showed up for his news conference wearing a sharp suit and tie, a change from his usual shorts-and-sneakers look.
``I did not dress up for you guys,'' he said as he dropped into his chair.
When a reporter's cell phone went off, O'Neill cracked, ``That's a $50 fine.''
Asked to describe O'Neill's coaching style, freshman Jamelle Horn said, ``I don't want to say in your face, but he wants to win. I think Coach Olson is a little more calm. 'K.O.' is pacing back and forth.''
O'Neill said he didn't know how the situation would affect recruiting. Signing day is next week.
``We talked about recruiting this morning in our staff meeting, and how important that was, obviously,'' O'Neill said. ``There's too many unknowns to know exactly what's going to happen, or what people are thinking out there.''
For the moment, O'Neill is more concerned with the players who are already in the program.
``I admire how our team has handled themselves professionally in terms of their approach to practice, the game the other day, their preparation,'' O'Neill said. ``They can't be boys. They've got to be men.''