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Lute Olson, University of Arizona Basketball Coach, Dies at 85

Olson coached at Arizona for 24 seasons and led the team to a national title in 1997

Lute Olson, a legendary college basketball coach for the University of Arizona men’s team, has died. He was 85.

Olson died Thursday and had been in hospice care after previously being hospitalized for suffering a stroke. His death was confirmed by his family’s statements to local Arizona media outlets and by the University of Arizona Athletics.

Olson took over the Arizona team in the 1983-84 season following a year in which the team won just four games and turned the school into a basketball powerhouse, amassing a record of 589-187 during his tenure, as well as a national title in 1997, over his 24 seasons with the team.

“Lute Olson was so much more than a basketball coach. He was an educator, a motivator, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend to so many,” University of Arizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins said in a statement. “He was a true leader in every sense of the word and displayed such integrity and compassion in every endeavor. While Coach will no longer be with us, his presence will be felt for generations to come. On behalf of the University of Arizona, our community and generations of Wildcat fans, we extend our thoughts and prayers to the Olson family.”

Olson was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He also coached Team USA and in 1986 led the United States to the gold medal in the FIBA World Championships. 31 players he coached at Arizona would eventually go on to play in the NBA.

“It’s hard to put into words how much Lute Olson meant to me. He was an amazing coach & a wonderful man. Being part of the U of A basketball family changed my life forever. I will never forget Coach O, those awesome nights at McKale and all my teammates. Thank you Coach- I love you,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in a tweet Friday.