For leaving his mark on the University of Arizona basketball program, coach Lute Olson is paid a very handsome fee _ around $800,000 a year.
And for leaving his mark on the NBA? Consider that gratis.
Technically, Olson never has coached in the NBA. But you can see his influence _ through his former players _ on the San Antonio Spurs and the Orlando Magic, to name a couple. In the past four NBA drafts, Arizona has turned out three first-round picks and two second-rounders, including Brian Williams of the Magic, Sean Elliott of the Spurs and Anthony Cook of the Denver Nuggets.
And don't expect this NBA feeder line to dry up any time soon. When the fifth-ranked Wildcats come to the Florida Suncoast Dome on Sunday for a nationally televised game against Temple, fans could be watching as many as four NBAers-in-waiting.
"We've always tried to develop complete players," Olson said by telephone earlier this week. "As great an offensive player as Sean is, he's been known as one of the top defensive players around for the Spurs.
"I think that's true with every player we've sent out of here. The NBA knows they're going to get well-rounded players and team players from here."
And, consequently, prep recruits who go to Arizona know they're going to get more than a casual glance from NBA scouts. Don't think that selling point is lost on Olson and his staff when they hit the recruiting trail.
"It's been a very helpful recruiting tool for us," Olson said. "Since '88, every player who has started on the front line for us has gone into the NBA. Most of the (prep) recruits are interested in going to a place where they can get the most exposure and develop into NBA prospects."
Sort of like Chris Mills. Or Sean Rooks. Or Khalid Reeves. Or Ed Stokes.
All four of those players should be on the NBA's guest list when they decide to leave Arizona. In the meantime, however, they are helping to fatten Olson's reputation, as well as his wallet, at Arizona.
Olson's financial package at Arizona recently hit the limelight because UCLA coach Jim Harrick said he wanted a similar deal. Olson's base salary is around $137,000, but he also receives $460,000 annually from a "service contract" with the University of Arizona Foundation. Add in summer camps and a sneaker contract and Olson is in the $800,000 range.
That figure makes him one of the highest-paid coaches in the game, and Arizona athletic director Cedric Dempsey said that's only fitting because Olson is among America's top 10 college coaches.
Who's to argue? Along with winning four straight Pac-10 championships, Arizona has made three trips to the Sweet 16 in the last four NCAA Tournaments. When you count Olson's tenure at Iowa, he's made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances in 13 years. A return engagement to the NCAA's March Madness is a guarantee this season.
Before losing to Arizona State on Thursday night, the Wildcats (19-4) had won nine in a row by playing some of the best defensive basketball in the country. Olson is known for high-pressure defenses, but he's actually gotten better results this year by toning it down.
"This is becoming maybe the best defensive team I've had. We have excellent quickness all around the perimeter and we've got capable people coming off the bench to keep us fresh," Olson said. "We're doing less full-court pressure because our half-court game has been so strong. I've never had a team force as many turnovers as this one.
"These guys really want to come up with a fifth straight Pac-10 title and they're willing to give it their best shot. They know the teams that get to the Final Four are the ones who play the best defense. Defense wins."
Unlike recent seasons, the route to a conference championship will not be a sunny jaunt along the Pacific Coast Highway for the Wildcats. The re-emergence of UCLA and Southern Cal has made the Pac-10 one of the nation's stronger conferences, and Arizona finds itself trailing the Bruins by one game heading into the final three weeks of league play.
"UCLA is having a great year, and the fact that USC has come on strongly gives us three teams with more national attention. In the past few years, its been just Arizona," Olson said. "But this is good for us. Any time you're facing good, solid competition, it's going to keep you sharper."
Olson at Arizona
Year Overall Conf.
1991-92 19-4 9-3
1990-91 28-7 14-4+
1989-90 25-7 15-3+
1988-89 29-4 17-1+
1987-88 35-3 17-1+
1986-87 18-12 13-5
1985-86 23-9 14-4+
1984-85 21-10 12-6
1983-84 11-17 8-10
+ _ 1st place in Pac-10
TODAY _ TICKETS $3
9:30 a.m.: Shootout Saturday opens.
9:30-11:30 a.m.: Temple practice.
10 a.m.: Women's 3-on-3 semifinals (DePaul vs. FSU, Arizona vs. Temple).
11:30 a.m.: Men's 3-on-3 semifinals (DePaul vs. FSU, Arizona vs. Temple).
1-3 p.m.: Deion Sanders signing autographs.
11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.: Arizona practice.
1 p.m.: Basketball clinic with Jim Valvano.
1:30-3:30 p.m.: DePaul practice.
3 p.m.: Delta Worldfest Challenge.
3:30-5:30 p.m.: FSU practice.
4 p.m.: Bayfront Medical Center Wheelchair basketball game.
5:30 p.m.: Suncoast Dome closes.
11:30 a.m.: Suncoast Dome gates open to the public.
11:45 a.m.: Women's 3-on-3 finals.
12:15 p.m.: Men's 3-on-3 finals.
1:35 p.m.: FSU vs. DePaul.
3:50 p.m.: Arizona vs. Temple.
Parking: Cars _ $4; RVs/Limos _ $10; Buses _ $15.
Tickets: $50, $24.50, $17.50, $10 and $5 (plus service charges).