“A Basketball Farewell”
A week of mourning.
A week to remember.
A week to reflect on their impact.
Basketball is saying goodbye to two of the college games greatest coaches.
They were cut from a different cloth. They had different personalities. They acted and conducted business from different corners of the world.
Georgetown will never forget John Thompson.
Arizona forever salutes Lute Olson.
They both resurrected moribund college programs.
Thompson went from an inner city upbringing to Providence College and then the Boston Celtics as a player.
He became one of the first legendary black coaches in modern time, taking over a (3-23) Hoyas program and turning it into an NCAA power.
In 27-years, he led the building of the historical Big East Conference, where Georgetown and Syracuse confrontations were legendary.
Olson came from the community college ranks to take over Iowa, and then moved to the Pac 10-Conference to build Arizona into a flagship program. If UCLA in the Wooden era was the standard-bearer back in the day, Olson made his Wildcats the modern day version of what happened at Westwood.
The influence of the two coaches is legendary.
Thompson recruited the inner city, and taught the likes of Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Alan Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo to be not only great players, but become great people.
Olson strived for academic success to compliment basketball success. He took players no one recruited, and made them special. Legendary NBA player and coach Steve Kerr a prime example. Sean Elliott, Richard Jefferson and so many others became proud Wildcats.
Between the two coaches, they went to the NCAA tourney 34-times. They dominated their leagues. They were Final Four participants. They won NCAA titles. Between them they had a combined 44-seasons of 20-wins or more.
Olson brought class and stature to West Coast basketball. He was stoic in his approach to coaching, dealing with the media and the fans.
Thompson was loud and gruff and tough. He fought the NCAA over academic standards that worked against inner city kids. He led his players to do charity work and graduated 97% of his players, many from low income lives.
The two were as different as day and night. Olson, dapperly dressed daily. Thompson hanging a towel on his shoulder, shouting, pointing, arguing and praising and looking worn out all the time..
Different strokes for different folks. But when they were done, Thompson won 596-games…Olson 583-outings.
But the influence was more than just victories and hanging banners.
The influence of these two leaders on the game, and more importantly the players on their rosters is their legacy..
John Thompson-Lute Olson, stood for alot. Did alot for the game, their schools and the people they crossed paths with.
Georgetown and Arizona are better places because they were on those campuses.
College basketball is better for crossing paths with those two leaders.