Channing Frye remembers his first Red-Blue experience as one filled with nerves.
One of five freshmen on the 2001-02 team, Frye knew that the scrimmage was a lot more than a scrimmage. Lute Olson said as much beforehand.
“He was like, ‘This is not a joke. This is a regular game. And this is going to determine other than Jason (Gardner), Ricky (Anderson) and Luke (Walton) who’s going to start,’” Frye said.
True to his word, Olson used the Red-Blue game to determine the starting lineup for the first part of the season. Freshmen Will Bynum and Isaiah Fox would start. Frye and Salim Stoudamire would sit.
“It was pretty intense, and afterwards we were like, ‘damn,’” Frye recalled Wednesday.
Olson softened his tone on the Red-Blue game over the years – by Frye’s senior season Olson’s mantra was “don’t get hurt” – but the preseason scrimmage set the tone for the year to come.
On Friday, Frye and fellow UA great Richard Jefferson will inaugurate another season of Arizona Wildcats basketball as they host the First Watch Red-Blue Showcase. Frye and Jefferson will be joined by Allie Clifton, co-host of their popular “Road Trippin’” podcast.
The Red-Blue Showcase – renamed from the Red-Blue Game because it features on-court competitions in addition to a scrimmage – tips off at 7:30 p.m. PST at McKale Center. Unlike in past years, it won’t be streamed on TV or online.
“We’ve been wanting to come back as a group and really support UofA and Tommy (Lloyd),” Frye said. “For us, the fact that there’s going to be a really big football game and the fact that this team has pretty high hopes, it just all worked out.”
Frye and Jefferson are two of Arizona basketball’s most visible and outspoken alums, and they’ve been no stranger to campus in recent years. However, this will be their first public appearance together at McKale since levying criticism on the UA’s 2021 coaching search to replace Sean Miller.
After Arizona hired Lloyd, the two took to their podcast where they credited Lloyd as a strong hire but lamented that the school didn’t take a more serious look at interviewing alums of the program.
Jefferson took particular aim at Arizona’s contract with Lloyd leaking before the school had formally concluded interviews with former players like Damon Stoudamire and Miles Simon.
“There was a shit ton of alums that were upset,” at the interviewing process and the timing of the leak, Jefferson said at the time.
Jefferson defended his 2-year-old comments on Wednesday.
“There was never criticism of Tommy Lloyd,” Jefferson said. “The criticism was (former players) not feeling like they had a fair chance. The criticism was we should probably interview some of these names and give second interviews.
“How are you not bringing these guys in, just for interview sakes, so they can say they received interviews? That’s how this process works.”
Frye said that the names on Arizona basketball’s coaching tree are more than qualified to coach almost anywhere in Division I basketball.
“For us, we want to take care of our own,” Frye said. “I know how much all those guys have done. Give them a chance to be successful, especially from your hometown.”
True test to come
While Frye and Jefferson remain adamant that Arizona should have seriously interviewed more alums, there’s no disputing the success Lloyd has brought to the program. Lloyd’s 61 wins in his first two seasons are the most by any coach in Division I history.
Even with that success, Jefferson said the true test of Lloyd will be in the next two to three seasons.
“We know this, at Arizona Elite 8s don’t get it done,” Jefferson said. “Tournaments don’t get it done. Pac-12 titles don’t get it done.
“That’s where the pressure starts to build is if you have good teams for five, six years, you go to the tournament. It’s Arizona. As long as you don’t mess it up, it’s Arizona, you should be able to get players here. And so that’s where the pressure starts.”
Jefferson said he thinks Lloyd will crush it in the years to come and finally break the Final Four drought that’s eluded the program since 2001, Jefferson’s last season.
When will that next Final Four come?
“I’m gonna say in the next two, three years,” Jefferson said.