Lute Olson was a college basketball coach for decades and mentored some of the game’s brightest stars.
Mike Bibby, Luke Walton, Gilbert Arenas, Damon Stoudamire, Andre Iguodala, and Jason Terry to name a few.
But who is the best player Olson has ever coached? The Hall of Famer was asked that Thursday after Arizona unveiled a statue in his honor, and he knew the answer.
“I think Sean Elliott is,” the 83-year-old Olson said. “Because he could play any position you wanted him to play.”
Lute Olson said Sean Elliott is the best player he ever coached pic.twitter.com/SvpLJCIGth— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) April 13, 2018
That wasn’t a surprising answer. Elliott, who played at Arizona from 1985-89, is usually regarded as the Wildcats’ best player of all-time.
The 6-foot-8, do-it-all forward was a two-time All-American, a National Player of the Year in 1989, and remains the program’s all-time leading scorer. He also led Arizona to its first ever Final Four in 1988.
Elliott broke Kareem Abdul-Jabaar’s all-time Pac-10 career scoring record as a senior, which Olson remembers fondly.
OK, maybe fondly isn’t the right word.
On February 19, 1989 against UCLA, Elliott needed 34 points to pass Abdul-Jabaar, so Olson kept him in the game late despite UA holding a huge lead (Arizona won 102-64).
But as Elliott neared the finish line, those record-breaking points were harder and harder to come by.
“He’s out there, he’s passing it to other people and I call a timeout and call him over and I say, ‘Sean, this is embarrassing for me to keep the starters out there. Would you please break the record?’” Olson recalls. “And he got fouled and made a free throw. So he broke the record.”
Elliott was eventually usurped by UCLA’s Don MacLean as the conference’s all-time leading scorer in 1992, but Elliott is still at the top of the UA’s record books.
And that probably won’t change for a long time since the best college players usually leave after a year or two these days.
So maybe Elliott isn’t the most talented player the Arizona program has seen — you can make an easy case for Deandre Ayton — but he is the most accomplished.
And it’s crazy to think the Tucsonan was plucked right out of the UA’s backyard.
“He’s a special guy and to get him right out of town, right out of Tucson is amazing to me,” Olson said.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire