Arizona Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Lute Olson and his family are some of the most wonderful people I know, and I want to take this moment to explain why.
Unfortunately, Lute Olson’s family didn’t get to announce news about their beloved patriarch their way. On Tuesday, news leaked out about the health of Arizona Basketball Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson on social media and as you would expect the reaction was immense.
Lute is such a wonderful and lovely man who has touched so many lives in Tucson and around the world as well as mine. This post is about my relationship with the Olson family and what Lute Olson means to me.
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I know Lute more as Papa. The entire reason my family and I are not only huge fans of Arizona Athletics, but of the town of Tucson and the University of Arizona stems from the Olson family. If it wasn’t for Bobbie and Lute, my daughters would probably have accepted offers from the University of Oregon.
At a young age, they were mentored by who they call their God Mom and Dad, Julie and Mike Hairgrove. Julie took care of my babies for about three years while she was assistant coach at Loyola Marymount, and I can’t say enough good things about this family and what they have done for my family.
The first time I met Lute was at Julie and Mike’s rehearsal dinner. Lute’s daughter Jody was also like my children’s grandma who always spoiled them silly. Lute was beaming all night, he was so happy about the impending marriage. I remember he had a huge smile on his face, as he always does, and we were at his house for the celebration.
Lute and I had a great talk about recreation basketball coaches and the extreme way they coached and yelled at little girls. Since, I was a commissioner in California for the local rec ball league, I saw it first hand. He just shook his head in disbelief. I asked him how he stayed so calm while coaching, and I will never forget his response, “It’s just a game Shereen, just a game.”
Jolly and humble. That’s what I always think of when I think of Coach Olson. A big teddy bear who loves his family and cherishes his five children, grand children and great grandchildren. I sometimes would bump into coach outside of family events and catch up. Those moments have always been some the most memorable and precious in my life, along with hanging out with the Olson family.
Coach Olson is a source of great advice to his grandchildren, especially when it comes to coaching. Both Julie Hairgrove (Phoenix Mercury) and Matt Brase (Houston Rockets) are professional coaches in the WNBA and NBA and attribute their style to their grandpa. They learned a lot from him and are carrying on his legacy.
The Olson family is very tight knit, and extremely welcoming. They are some of the most friendly and loving folks I have ever met. They always take care of me and my family, like we are a part of their family. And there is nothing like a pre-game Olson family Tailgate especially at Halloween. Lute pops in from time to time and that is a special treat for all.
The last time I bumped into Lute was after a UCLA vs. Arizona game in Pauley Pavilion. He instantly recognized me and stopped on the stairs wearing his red and white plaid shirt and a huge smile. We didn’t talk basketball. Instead I brought up how beautiful, smart and talented Julie’s daughters were and Lute took it from there, describing each one in full detail. He has an uncanny ability to recognize the good parts of people, their strengths and what makes them so special.
One thing I thank Lute for almost every day is for recruiting and coaching his Wildcats who we have enjoyed since college. A lot of his prodigies are hugely successful and still providing us entertainment and joy.
Former players like Steve Kerr and Luke Walton are both NBA head coaches. Mike Brase, Joseph Blair, Miles Simon, Jesse Mermuys, Jud Buechler and Isaiah Fox are all NBA Assistant coaches. Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye, Matt Muehlebach, and Gilbert Arenas are in media. And Andre Iguodala, Jerryd Bayless, and Solomon Hill are still playing in the NBA!
Also, in college basketball, Damon Stoudamire is the head coach for the University of the Pacific, and Josh Pastner at Georgia Tech. The latest new coach is Jason Terry, who is Sean Miller’s assistant coach at the University of Arizona.
The list of former players that have gone on to do tremendous things is long and it goes to show the impact he has had!
Whenever I had a chance, I tried to repay the Olson families kindness and help raising my Wildcats and being there as a Tucson extension of our family. I never seem to feel like it’s possible. Lute’s daughter Jody and I have a great time together, she is so strong and maternal, she is smart, devoted and giving, and it shows in how she raised her children well. Jody helped me get my start in Sports Broadcasting and I will forever be grateful to her and Julie and Mike who are like a second mom and dad to my children. Julie has a hugely special place in our hearts and our hearts go out to her and her family. I want to thank them all for bringing us into their lives, we are so much better for it. Bear Down for life!