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NCAA Tournament: Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett studied Arizona’s turnaround under Lute Olson to create his program

Saint Mary’s is kind of a thing because of Lute Olson

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Salt Lake City Practice Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett may be known for his ability to recruit Australian players, but he actually grew up in Mesa, AZ. He was born in the Phoenix suburb in 1962, attended Westwood High School, and even started his college playing career at Mesa Community.

Heading into his showdown with the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday, Bennett took some time to reminisce on how the college basketball landscape in the state has changed since he was a youngster.

“I was around for (Fred) Snowden’s days when I was growing up,” Bennett started. “(The Wildcats) were actually pretty good then, and then they declined, and then Lute (Olson) came in, and I was friends with Brock Brunkhorst, he was one of his first recruits, and saw the thing go.”

“Every year they got better,” continued Bennett. “Lute’s first year they struggled a little bit, and then they started putting it together. As a young coach, you start studying those guys. How did they get good? How did Arizona happen?”

That impact that Olson had on the sport of college basketball and the way the landscape shifted not only in Arizona, but in the west, has stuck with Bennett.

“When I was in high school, Arizona State was ahead of Arizona. It changed, and it’s never really changed back. So in Tucson, Arizona basketball was a big deal, but once it happened, everybody was like ‘Oh yeah, Arizona basketball, they’re top ten in the country’.”

“They weren’t back then, but to see that evolve, pretty cool for one that they built it and sustained it and kept it rolling. Sean’s done an awesome job. It’s hard to sustain what they already had, he’s done that.”

“To see that happen, you learn from it, you study it, and it’s cool for a community like Tucson. It’s become such a huge part of that city.”

Bennett has been able to do a similar thing with Saint Mary’s and the community of Moraga, CA. Before he arrived there in 2001, the Gaels had only played in four postseason games period. Now? This will be their 20th game in either the NIT or NCAA Tournament under Bennett, and they have consistently been the top program in the Bay Area.

So yeah, he probably learned a thing or two growing up in Arizona during that time.