Olson gone, but Zona's season continues

October, 24, 2008
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Prior to officially retiring, Arizona coach Lute Olson took responsibility for an NCAA violation that occurred in the offseason.

But it's still too early to tell if Arizona will get hit by the NCAA after self-reporting the matter.

"I think that was my fault," Olson said during Monday's interview with ESPN/ESPN.com. "That wasn't anyone else's fault. It was my error and it was a big error. But I guess in 26 years you are allowed to make a mistake once in a while anyway and that's not to say I haven't made a lot of them but in terms of that, that was a big mistake on my part."

The issue at hand is an undated letter that left the Arizona basketball office.

A "personal and confidential" letter was sent to the "Rebounders Club" board of directors with an electronic signature of Lute Olson requesting that they provide financial assistance to Jim Storey's Cactus Classic AAU tournament that is held on the Tucson campus in the spring. The letter expressed how important this event, held last spring on May 9-11, is to the Arizona program for recruiting players. Arizona has signed players who have participated in this camp. The letter states, "to ensure the future of this tournament, Jim needs support from private donations. The athletic department can't assist in any way. This is why your help is crucial."

Olson denied that he knew the letter was being sent out. Arizona's self-report said that athletic department personnel thought the letter was supposed to go out.

What is potentially troubling for Arizona is that on April 15, Olson introduced Storey at the "Rebounders Club" meeting. He turned the meeting over to Storey and then departed. Storey's presentation dealt with requesting financial assistance. The presentation was two-plus minutes and, according to Arizona, not all of the people stayed. But the NCAA may want to question how Olson could have introduced Storey and not known what his topic would be to the boosters.

Olson did send a follow-up letter to the boosters telling them the letter with his electronic signature was sent without his knowledge. He said that he was embarrassed by the letter and apologized because it was clearly a violation of NCAA rules.

"I mean as soon as that had been made aware to me we immediately followed that up with another letter and a lot of phone calls just to indicate that we cannot be involved in that," Olson said. "It's an important function for us but it's not something that we can, as a university, be involved in."

Olson said there was a lack of communication on the issue within the office.

Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood said the school is fully cooperating with the NCAA but has no timetable on any kind of decision.

Final nuggets

• Arizona will be a star-driven team this season. The Wildcats will rely heavily on the big three of juniors Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise. Budinger must score off the catch, Hill off putbacks in the post and Wise on driving to the hoop.

"Right now we're going to have to carry a lot of the load," Wise said. "There are freshmen here that are going to have to help us."

The freshmen whom Wise singled out were guard Brendon Lavender and center Jeff Withey. Both will have to play. So, too, will senior forward Fendi Onobun, who will need to be the brute force inside; swing forward Jamelle Horne, who will need to be a defensive stopper; and shooter Zane Johnson, who must give Budinger some help with points when he's in the game.

"We're real young," Hill said. "The younger guys are going to have to work hard and listen to Coach to play at this level. Some of the guys have had trouble but that's how it was for me my freshman year."

The Pac-10 will probably be broken up into three groups: the top tier of UCLA, USC and Arizona State; the middle tier of Washington, Washington State and Arizona; and the lower tier of Oregon, Cal, Stanford and Oregon State.

"There's a lot of pressure but I think us three are up to the challenge," said Budinger, who may have to score in the 20-point range each game, three more than his average of 17 a season ago. Jerryd Bayless, the team's top scorer a last season with 20 a game, left for the NBA.

• Associate head coach Mike Dunlap had the big men on Monday going through an interesting drill. He tossed various balls at them, starting off with a pingpong ball, a tennis ball, a medicine ball and then a basketball. Junior center Hill said this drill has helped the big men catch entry passes into the post.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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