Greg Hansen: How to build a basketball dynasty

2011-11-07T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: How to build a basketball dynastyGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 07, 2011 12:00 am  • 

I: Take on the bullies.

In the '80s, struggling to build a brand and a reputation, Olson scheduled Duke, North Carolina, Georgetown, Pitt, Temple and Illinois. He played Jerry Tarkanian's vintage UNLV Rebels, set up a home-and-home with Final Four power Oklahoma, and agreed to play in the Great Alaska Shootout opposite juggernauts Syracuse and Michigan.

He did not load up on puffballs, as rival Arizona State did in that period. He did not duck anyone. The Wildcats became one of the best by insisting on playing the best.

II: Get out of town.

Building toughness, belief and a sense of immediacy, Olson scheduled 17 nonconference teams that were in the Top 25 when Arizona played them in the '80s (not including NCAA tournament games).

Only four of those games were in Tucson: Illinois, Iowa, Duke and UNLV.

Once the Wildcats got used to the level of intensity on an enemy's court, the intimidation factor was minimized. Olson played at No. 3 Iowa and won. He beat No. 9 Duke in a made-for-TV game in New Jersey at which 90 percent of the fans wore Dookie blue.

By the time Olson really hit his prime, in the 1990s, the Wildcats weren't fazed by a Top 25 opponent, beating No. 2 Arkansas in New York City, whipping No. 8 Cincinnati in Phoenix and chopping down No. 5 Missouri in an Elite Eight game in Los Angeles.

III: Don't settle for mid-level prospects from Phoenix.

Olson fully evaluated the state's top players from the greater Phoenix area, and although it would've been much easier to fill out his roster with Arizonans, he chose to pursue Top 100 prospects against Top 25 programs.

The working theory is that once you recruit someone, he usually winds up playing for you. That's what ASU did with midlevel Phoenician players Mark Carlino, Mark Becker, Kenny Crandall, Donnell Knight, Tommy Smith, Bryson Krueger, Jimmy Kolyszko and on and on.

Olson was so selective that he took just Mike Bibby, Richard Jefferson, Jerryd Bayless and Channing Frye from Phoenix. All became NBA lottery picks.

IV: Cultivate the home folks.

Olson played to the crowd, acknowledging the Zona Zoo with a pregame wave, and never failing to mention their importance a day or two before a really Big Game at McKale.

As a result, he made 14,000 McKale-ites feel part of the show, and they bought in, bellowing against all manner of officiating injustice while creating the league's most formidable home-court advantage.

V: Hang on to history.

Before Olson arrived, Arizona had not properly honored a former player/coach in the arena.

Nobody thought to nail something to the wall for posterity, identifying Fred Enke, even though he won 509 games and coached Arizona to 10 seasons of at least 18 victories. Nobody raised a jersey for Roger Johnson, a Tucson product, who was a three-time All-Border Conference star and the centerpiece of 26-5 and 24-6 postseason tournament teams.

But under Olson's reign, personnel at McKale Center started hanging jerseys, banners and tacking up names of the greatest Wildcats. Now the place is Heritage Hall.

VI: Don't let a crushing NCAA exit define you.

Expectations grew so quickly, and so unrealistically, that Arizona's 1992 and 1993 first-round exits to East Tennessee State and Santa Clara scarred Olson and his program for years.

Hey, it happens to all the elite teams. Don't dodge it; take it head on and say you'll get 'em next year.

Kansas has been eliminated by Bucknell and Bradley. North Carolina lost to Weber State. UCLA has been sent home in Game 1 by Princeton. San Diego stunned UConn and Missouri State bumped off Wisconsin.

Inevitably, Sean Miller will be shocked in a first-round game by Nowhere U., and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In modern college hoops, the head coach needs to tell the masses to get over it.

VII: Tap the accelerator.

In a game increasingly dotted by caution-first, slow-it-down coaches such as ASU's Herb Sendek, USC's Kevin O'Neill and Oregon State's Craig Robinson, the up-tempo coaches remain more attractive to NBA-hopeful, elite recruits.

Olson's teams led the Pac-10 in scoring 11 times - the same number of league titles he won - and had a four-year run from 1996 to 1999 leading the league with 82, 84, 91 and 82 points per game.

Or look at it this way: Arizona never led the Pac-10 in scoring defense in the Olson years. Who cared?

VIII: Give me your tired, your poor, your transfer students.

Arizona would not have played in 25 consecutive NCAA tournaments unless Olson had been flexible and opportunistic. Had he not added transfers Tom Tolbert, Bennett Davison and Loren Woods, it's likely Arizona would not have played in the 1988, 1997 or 2001 Final Fours.

In the transition stage after being ranked No. 1 in 1988 and 1989, Arizona was first to get Chris Mills out of Kentucky and Brian Williams from Maryland. Some said they had too much baggage. Not so. During their time, the Wildcats went 101-25. It was a launch point to greater things. And a few years later, with two-time transfer Ben Davis in the lineup, Arizona went 51-13.

IX: No jobs are guaranteed.

Olson's first coveted freshman point guard was Michael Tait. He averaged 7.1 points and appeared destined for stardom. He was - at Clemson. Tait lost his job to Steve Kerr and, unhappy, quit school.

Olson similarly let the cream rise to the top in the 1988 Final Four season. Senior guard Craig McMillan had averaged 12.9 and 11.8 as a sophomore and junior, but in '88 his average fell to 6.5 because Kerr, returning from a season-long injury, needed to get more shots and McMillan had to yield.

By 1999-2000, freshman guard Ruben Douglas, who averaged 8.0 points per game a season earlier, was headed toward an NCAA scoring title - as a New Mexico Lobo. In training camp, Douglas lost his job to freshman Gilbert Arenas and Olson let the best man win the job. It was a key to Arizona's 2001 Final Four team.

X: The grass isn't greener anywhere else.

It's impossible to tell what might've happened to Arizona as a basketball school had Olson taken the Kentucky job in 1985 or 1989. But it is entirely possible to understand that Olson's decision to stay, to give his prime coaching years to Arizona made him wealthy, famous and greased his spot in the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

He proved you can build a dynasty in the desert, then and now.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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