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Lute escapes lightly roasted

By Brett Fera
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Monday August 25, 2003

It had the potential to be every former Wildcat basketball player's dream.

Instead, it turned out to be an evening of light ribbing and heavy laughs during the Lute Olson Celebrity Roast and Dinner on Friday, as part of the Arizona Basketball centennial celebration that took place over the weekend.

"It's a difficult situation to be in," said former UA star Steve Kerr of having to make fun at Olson's expense. "I mean, what am I going to say?"

Nearly 700 friends of the Arizona hoops program attended the event at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, along with a host of roasters that included former UA stars Tom Tolbert, Sean Elliott and Kerr, along with former rival coaches Jud Heathcote, George Raveling and Bill Frieder. Current NBA head coach Kevin O'Neill, a former Olson assistant, and longtime CBS broadcaster Billy Packer rounded out the panel, who each took turns going after the hall-of-fame coach.

It may not have been for a lack of effort, but most of those attempts turned into what usually happens around Olson ¸ primarily words of admiration and praise for the silver-haired admiral of the cardinal and navy.

"It's always Lute this, Lute that," said O'Neill, who was recently named head coach of the Toronto Raptors. "It's hard to make fun of coach. He is the mother-approved coach."

While each of his former players mentioned Olson's limited usage of profanity, O'Neill did mention his former boss' attitude toward Tolbert, now an NBA analyst for ABC and ESPN. Tolbert is known for his outlandish viewpoints and ability to relate to the common fan.

"Coach never did get Tom's name right," O'Neill said. "╬Tom Tolbert you jackass' was as close as he got."

When it was Tolbert's turn to rib his former coach, he made sure to mention Olson's interesting vocabulary in heated conversation.

"He used to say ╬Judas Priest, Tom,'" Tolbert said. "I thought he was a metal head. I wanted to go up to him and say, ╬You like Iron Maiden?' Really though, I just wanted Lute to cuss. I wanted to be the reason he cussed. I came to Arizona with two goals: To win a championship and to make coach cuss. I failed at both."

Frieder, who starred alongside Olson in a series of commercials for Bank One during his days as coach at Arizona State, made a big splash when he stripped out of his street clothes and put on a UA shirt and hat along with a pair of Arizona shorts, causing host Dave Sitton to call Frieder, "the most popular Sun Devil in Pima County."

Raveling, a former coach at Southern California, Iowa and Washington State, pretended to be upset when he walked to the podium to roast his good friend.

"I must have misunderstood," Raveling said. "I really wanted some barbecue tonight."

Raveling even made the most of his opportunity at the podium, sneaking in a chance to poke fun at Arizona governor Janet Napolitano.

"It's great to see the governor here tonight, taking time out of her busy schedule," Raveling said. "I mean, she promised no quick solutions and she's kept her word."

When it came time for Kerr to speak, he made sure to bring up the popular topic of Olson's famous silver head of hair, not to mention his lack of change in appearance since being named head coach two decades ago.

"The guy never changes. You look at him now, and he's 72 but looks 52," Kerr said. "But 20 years ago, he was 52 and looked 72. So which is it?"

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