Coach (Olson) is not going to address you today. He’s going to be with us in some of the practices. He’s not going to coach the games at this point. There is no timetable for him to do that, absolutely no timetable. I’m asking you, like I’ve asked you before, to respect his privacy as I’m going to, and respect his and Christine’s wishes and let him take care of his personal matters on his own personal time frame…which I think is really important to let happen.
Will he be on the bench tomorrow night?
He will not.
Did you want him to be there?
I want Lute Olson to do whatever Lute Olson wants to do, and I’ve told him that several times. Whatever he wants to do, that’s what I want to do. That’s why I came here to work with Lute and for Lute. I want him to do whatever he wants to do and we’ll work it out around him.
What was the response of the kids on the court yesterday?
They were fine. I’ve said this since three weeks ago Sunday (Nov. 4). Our guys have really been pretty resilient. I guess that you would have to ask them how they felt, or whatever, but I think they’ve been very resilient to a lot of things. Especially how they are age-wise in terms of maturity and stuff like that. They’ve handled themselves very well, and I’m convinced they’ll handle themselves very well for the rest of the season no matter what any of us do.
Has Lute given you a definitive schedule of when he will attend practice?
He has not. There’s really, again, no timetable for that either.
Do you go about your business and coach the guys, etc.?
I think that’s exactly the tact I’ve taken the last three weeks with Coach’s guidance and I want to continue to that. The important thing here that I don’t think anyone should lose track of…there are two things that are of the utmost importance: number one, it is Lute Olson and his personal situation is first and foremost in our minds. As we know, all of our prayers are with him in every way. The second thing that we can’t forget about is the welfare of our student-athletes and the fact that they are a big centerpiece in everything we do here. The guys that play the game for us and represent our university in a first-class manner on and off the court deserve the best world-class experience we can give them on and off the court, and that’s what I intend to do to the best of my abilities until Coach returns on a full-time basis.
Could you tell in practice that he was familiar with everything that’s been going on with the team?
He’s followed us, obviously, very closely. He knows stats. He knows all that. As you know, he is sharp. He doesn’t miss a trick. It would appear to me that he hasn’t missed any tricks.
Do you still feel like he will definitely be back as a full time head coach at some point?
The only reply I can give to that is what I think is the only fair reply. There is absolutely no timetable for his return. As you know, no timetable could mean anything from one day to 10 days. Believe me, there is no plan. We’re not covering up anything here. We’re just giving coach his space to be who he is and do what he needs to do.
Was Coach Olson involved in practice yesterday?
He was involved somewhat in practice. He was involved. He made some coaching points – great ones I might add – teaching points that were great. So he was very involved.
Can you give us a timetable of when you knew he was going to be at practice yesterday?
I didn’t really find out for sure until early afternoon and told the players that there was a good chance that Coach was going to be at practice. They went about their business.
These guys are pretty good guys. When I grow up, I wish that I could be many of them (laughs), to be honest with you at how well they handle things.
Is there a lot of life-experiencing stuff going on?
Oh, they are getting some life experiences all right. As a matter of fact, I am too as we go along here (laughter). They’re handling it, probably, better than all of us, to be honest with you. I have great admiration, great admiration, for our players. Short of the 25 turnovers (Sunday vs. Kansas), which nobody would admire, I mean not basketball. I have great admiration for how these guys have gone about their business the entire time we’ve been practicing this year and playing games. They’ve been awesome.
Was it a boost to the team to have him back yesterday?
I think anytime greatness is in your presence it’s a boost. Let’s face it, he’s greatness. Patrick Ewing, (Hakeem) Olajuwon, Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight…when you have greatness is your presence, it helps your presence.
The players said there was a sense of comfort in having him there yesterday. Did you feel the same way?
Yeah, I feel better every time I see Lute. For the 21 years that I’ve known him, every time I see him I feel better. I sit up straighter. Watch my tongue a little bit more, obviously. I can tell you right now that any time Coach is around it makes everyone feel better. He has that much of an effect on our players, our staff, our university and our community. Let’s face it, he’s been an integral part of this community for 25 years, and not just and integral part, he kind of been the face of our community in many ways for 25 years representing the University of Arizona. He made cactus logos famous. They were always famous here, but he made it famous in college basketball.
Cal State Fullerton is a pretty good team…
This is a very good team. I’ve said this many times, if we don’t play our best basketball we are going to lose. It’s up to us to come out there ready to play…to have a great practice today, to have a great scouting session tonight and a great shootaround tomorrow and come out an play basketball.
Do you think that the fact that the games have come so quickly and so often that it’s been easy to keep it business as usual?
This may sound a little bit trite, but I learned to deal with – I don’t want to say crisis management because this certainly isn’t a crisis compared to other people’s crises – but you learn to deal in the NBA with daily problems…that are off the court, on the court, whatever. The only thing that I’m trying to focus on is getting our players prepared for what they need to do on and off the court, whether it be making sure that study hall is taken care of, whether it be making sure that we have a great practice or shootaround, preparing the tapes, getting the practice plan done the right way, putting some thought in. My whole time has been spent preparing what is best for the players. I’m going to stay, to the best of my ability, doing that.
You have two young assistants and really three coaches out there. Has that hindered you at all?
I’m fortunate to have the guys I have. They’ve been here. They’ve played here, so they have great respect for Arizona, obviously, because of the fact that they’ve been successful and now they are working here. Those guys have done a very good job. They’ve obviously done more because we’re in a position that we don’t have Lute here, so everybody’s duties change a little bit. As a head coach, I’ve always been kind of a guy that’s going to do a lot anyway. I do a lot, like I watch every tape. I get involved with a lot of it. Those guys have been very supportive with me, with the players, with the university. We’ve got other guys who have done a good job for us – Matt Brase, Jesse Mermuys, Ryan Hennick – all of the guys understand that the most important thing for us is to try to win basketball games and do well in the classroom. If we put emphasis on those things and don’t get distracted, then we are doing our job. And that is what we need to do.
Fullerton is coming off a 10-day layoff. Do you think that is a better situation?
I don’t know. I’m used to four games a week all the time anyway and nobody gets time off. I guess that I really don’t know how to answer that question. I’m sure they are going to be prepared to play. If I had 10 days before I had to play an opponent, I’d put in a lot of new things. I would throw in some curveballs and do all that kind of stuff. They have a very good coach (Bob Burton). They have a very good team. I’m sure they will throw us some curveballs and do the things they need to do to win the game.
They are junior- and senior-oriented team that is well coached and play hard. It’s going to be a very difficult game.
Is there any rhyme or reason to your substitution pattern?
I do a lot of it on feel. The other night I had a definite plan with what I wanted to do with our big guys. I wanted to protect our foul trouble. I didn’t want our guys to play too many minutes in a row. It depends on who we are playing. I went into the game with the intention of playing Laval (Lucas-Perry) the other night, but Nic (Wise) was playing so well that I shortened the rotation. I just felt that the guys who were out there were doing the job. I don’t think we can have a set rotation with this team. I think that everybody needs to be alive and ready to play, and I’m asking guys to do that. I’m sure that guys get disappointed sometimes, but I’m more of a feel guy. I always have a definite thought about who I want to put in first.
The way we’re built right now with not a hugely deep front line with Fendi (Onobun) out right now, sometimes we’re going to have to play small and match and sometimes we’re going to have to play big. I feel that it’s my job substitution-wise to be able to go with the flow of the game and get a feel for it and do the best I can to help us win that game.
Who are you going to start?
I’m not sure who I’m going to start yet. I’m going to get through practice tonight. You guys know me. There is no such thing as tricky in me. I’m not a tricky guy. I’m not trying to trick anybody, but I will always want to see practice. If you tell a guy that he is starting all of the time and he comes in and dogs it in practice, then he shouldn’t start. So I’m in a position where I don’t what to put the players in a comfort zone where they aren’t going to practice hard every day.
I think we’re going to start bigger, but I’m not sure. I think we’re going to have to be ready to adjust to both because they play big and small sometimes.
How did you feel about your defense against Kansas?
They were 19-for-53 against us in the half court. That’s the stat I worry about. I don’t worry about overall percentages as much as half court defensive stats because we couldn’t guard against the 10 turnover baskets they got. Those are undefensible. I though we made some strides in the second half of that game and played pretty hard. But you can’t defend against turnover baskets and you can’t defend against fouling. It’s going to take us a while, but I thought we played very hard and very well in the second half of the Kansas game.
I’m feeling more and more confident with our defense all the time. I’m feeling more and more confident with our team all the time. I am cautiously optimistic that we are learning how to play hard all the time, but we’re not there yet.