Once he was told last winter about tentative plans to build a statue of him, former Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson considered the location.
He initially coveted a spot near the south entrance to McKale Center, where most fans stream in.
But then-Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne cautioned him against that idea.
“Greg said, ‘You won’t get to see the game. Everyone will want to take their picture with you in front of it,” Olson said.
The UA announced plans for the $300,000 statue project on Tuesday, with plans to unveil Olson’s likeness in March. The south side of McKale was not considered because of future expansion, the UA said. Plus, the north-side plaza area has more room for future statues.
“Greg was thinking when other statues are done, it would sort of be statue row,” Olson said.
Olson picked out a spot to the right of the Hall of Champions’ main entrance, which sits directly in front of an inside display that features a photo of Sean Elliott, Olson’s first consensus All-American and the 1989 consensus player of the year.
Olson’s statue will also be tied in with another star player from his early years at Arizona, Steve Kerr. The Golden State Warriors coach has licensed his name and likeness to Original Retro Brand, which will sell vintage UA shirts and jerseys with Kerr’s name on them starting Thursday.
“Lute is obviously a legendary figure in the program that not only he built but that Sean (Miller) continues to grow,” Kerr said. “Sean has acknowledged over the years just how important Lute was in setting that foundation. So it’s a fitting tribute. It’ll last forever.”
A portion of the proceeds will help offset the cost of Olson’s statue. The UA said Tuesday, however, that the “bulk” of the $300,000 will be paid for by private donations.
The 82-year-old Olson said he was grateful that people at UA supported the idea of a statue, elaborating in a statement.
“I was fortunate to have a successful career that spanned a number of different locations, but Tucson and the University of Arizona have become my home,” Olson said in the UA’s statement. “I’m deeply touched at this recognition and I want to thank all of the staff members, student-athletes and fans, who made, and continue to make, my life at Arizona something special.”
Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke said in his statement that Olson made Arizona special, too.
“We’re thrilled to recognize Coach Olson, not just for what he accomplished on the basketball court, but for what he means to Arizona and our community,” Heeke said.
“His legendary status is worthy of this honor, and we’re proud that his statue will be visible to the thousands of people that visit McKale on a yearly basis.”
Olson coached at Arizona for 24 years, winning 75.8 percent of his games, 11 Pac-10 titles and the 1997 national championship. He was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
The UA has yet to choose a statue design, though a prototype released Tuesday showed Olson holding the NCAA trophy and waving in a pose captured by a Star photographer after the game. Designers are “still looking at various options and want to allow for some flexibility as we move through the process,” a UA spokesman said Tuesday night.
The statue could be unveiled before the Wildcats’ final home basketball games. Arizona is scheduled to finish its home season against Cal and Stanford during the first weekend of March, though the exact dates have not been finalized.
If the statue is ready then, the north side of McKale Center likely will be more crowded than ever before those games.
Olson will be grateful to see it happen. And maybe he’ll even show up for pictures.
“It’s a great honor,” he said. “I feel really privileged.”