By Adam Gaub
Adam Gaub/sports editor
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 12, 2006
There's more to it than just the name.
Sure, many big-time recruits like St. Mary's High School star Jerryd Bayless are attracted to the Arizona men's basketball team because of the success and the renown of the white-haired gentleman who acts as head coach.
But the man for whom fans chant "LUUUUUUUUUUUUUTE" at each home game could never have done it on his own.
Just as much a part of Arizona basketball as the halftime Spot Shot competition, the Ooh-Aah Man, and Super Dave calling out "Eegee's! Get your Eegee's heah!" is the stabilizing force behind the scenes, Olson's wife, Christine.
While ignoring Lute's instructions on the court may land players in a world of trouble, off the court players often find their way to the Olson home if there is trouble in their world and they could use some motherly advice.
"I'm just like one of her sons," said Arizona freshman guard J.P. Prince of Christine. "I go over to their house whenever I want."
Indeed, with the departure of center Channing Frye and forward Matt Brase, this year's roster is devoid of any in-state players for the first time in more than a decade.
Players who come from states away have to get used to living on their own under the intense scrutiny of a media spotlight.
In the case of redshirt freshman Mohamed Tangara, that distance spans the breadth of the Atlantic Ocean and makes the need for a surrogate family all the more important.
"Christine is great. I love her," Tangara said. "She's a great person. I look at her like a mom."
The players feel completely at ease to drop by Coach O.'s house for some love and attention, or just to relax and study.
"Most of the time we go out and hang out there," Tangara said.
For players spending their first year away from home, the taste of a home-cooked meal or the relaxed and loving atmosphere Christine provides for the players at her home is invaluable to the team.
That's especially for Tangara, who is a continent away from his birthplace in the African nation of Mali and was forced to redshirt last year due to recurrent back problems.
"It was long," he said of last season. "You feel like you can't help your team, so this year I'm very happy to be able to help.
"I want to be able to sweat and not have a fresh jersey," he said.
More than that, Tangara said he wants to be a success in life after college, and believes coming to Arizona will prepare him to do that.
"Coach O, he's one of the guys you can look at - he influenced their lives," Tangara said of past Wildcats. "If I ... do what he asks me to do, I will probably have a wonderful life."
That wonderful life for many players has been enriched by not only the coaching and teaching of Lute, but the loving and nurturing of both Christine and Lute's former wife, Bobbi.
Bobbi Olson, who died Jan. 1, 2001 after a nearly three-year battle with ovarian cancer, was so much of a part of the lives of players, the campus community and the whole city of Tucson that the floor in McKale Center was renamed "Lute and Bobbi Olson Court," immortalizing the woman who became known to so many as the First Lady of Arizona Basketball.
In her memory, Lute and his family helped set up the Bobbi Olson Endowment at the Arizona Cancer Center, where private donations can be made to aid research for prevention of and a cure for ovarian cancer, according to the Arizona Cancer Center's Web site.
While Christine has become the team mother to the new crop of players making their way through the Arizona program, Bobbi's legacy lives on.
"I have kept track (of Arizona basketball) since I was a little kid," Prince said. "So I knew about coach Olson's wife."
"I heard she was a great person, and I feel the same even though I didn't get a chance to know her personally," Tangara said.
Just last year, Lute and his family donated $1 million to the Arizona Cancer Center to further research a possible cure.
In the family that is Arizona basketball, one thing remains constant: The loving atmosphere that the Olsons provide to players will never change.
Adam Gaub is a journalism senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.