33 years ago, the modern era of the Pac-10 Conference was formed, uniting the ten teams that we currently recognize as conference participants: Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, CAL, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State.
As most know, Colorado and Utah are combining with this original ten in 2012 to form what will be known as the Pac-12. New rivalries will spawn, and new history of the conference will unfold, but for now let’s take a quick peek back at the past 3 decades of the Pac-10 Men’s Basketball league.
UCLA, through John Wooden’s dominance, owned the previous version of the conference, the Pac-8, but since 1978 there would be much more parity in the league. In total, eight of the participating universities would bring home a regular season Conference Championship title, but there was one team who brought home the hardware more than any other.
The University of Arizona Wildcats under Lute Olson won a record 11 Pac-10 titles (and a record 4 Pac-10 Tournament titles), and Sean Miller’s current squad has returned the Wildcats to glory and have written the last chapter in Pac-10 title lore. How fitting.
Lute Olson was much like reputed gangster and Las Vegas pioneer Bugsy Siegel, in that they both came out West in attempts of jump starting a fluttering industry. For Bugsy, he had a vision that funneling mob money through the creation of elaborate show hotels would bring such fortune and fame that his organized crime syndicate would be catapulted to new heights.
Through his first hotel venture, The Flamingo, he proved that he could help create a cash cow in the middle of the desolate and unforgiving Nevada desert. Unfortunately for Bugsy, he wasn’t given ample time to develop his venture. The Flamingo indeed became an epic center of gambling and entertainment, but their initial struggles out of the gate resulted in Bugsy’s fate to be decided by a hail of bullets.
For Lute, he had a vision of bringing his basketball expertise back out West, with efforts to build a championship caliber program to help fill the void left by the recent departure of the legendary John Wooden. The University of Arizona Wildcats Men’s basketball team were merely an afterthought in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Enter Robert Luther Olson.
In 1983, Olson struggled his first year with trying to get his players to learn his offensive & defensive philosophies, finishing eighth in the Pac-10 with a paltry 11-17 record. Fortunately for Lute, he was given a bit more leeway than Bugsy Siegel, and was able to quickly turn around the Arizona program in his second year. Under Lute’s tutelage, the Wildcats finished third in the Pac-10 with a 21-10 record and earned their first trip to the NCAA tourney.
Basketball fever had caught fire in Tucson, and Olson was the doctor who continued to prescribe winning seasons year after year. When it was all said and done, Lute did indeed build Arizona into a championship caliber program to the tune of:
(11) Pac-10 Titles
(4) Pac-10 Tournament Titles,
(1) National Championship,
(4) Final 4’s,
(7) Elite 8’s
(11) Sweet 16’s,
(23) Consecutive NCAA Tourney appearances
What Lute built in the desert is nothing short of amazing, and due to his success Arizona has been able to continue the tradition of excellence by bringing in young Sean Miller as coach. What Miller has accomplished in just 2 short years is nothing short of a miracle.
Somehow, the allure of Arizona that Lute had built had faded in recent years, and Miller came into a bleak situation with virtually no veteran leadership in returning players and a recruiting cupboard that was completely bare.
In Miller’s first six weeks on the job, he was able to entice the steady PG Nic Wise to return for his senior season, scooped up a Top 15 recruiting class comprised of Mo Mo Jones, Solomon Hill, Kyryl Natyazhko, Kevin Parrom and a certain diamond in the rough Derrick Williams. Not surprisingly, these players struggled over the year learning Sean Miller’s system and finished with a hard fought 16-15 record.
The emergence of Derrick Williams as the Freshman Player of the Year in the Pac-10 was a good sign that the Wildcats were headed in the right direction.
In just his second season at the helm, Sean Miller has not only gotten his players to successfully buy into and implement his philosophies on the basketball court, he has officially put his stamp on the program and has alerted the nation that Arizona is back.
Miller’s team crept back into the nation’s AP and Coaches poll’s top 10 (though it was a short lived trip) earlier this year and has won their first Pac-10 regular season championship. Going into the Pac-10 tourney as the #1 seed with a record of 25-6 only bodes well for this team’s immediate and long term futures. Sean Miller has Elite 8 success in his previous gig at Xavier, so he knows how to win once the NCAA Tournament begins
This latest Pac-10 title gives Arizona a record 12th Championship, and seals their status as the best team in the history of the Pac-10 conference. With a Top 5 national recruiting class coming to Tucson next year, there is every reason to think that Sean Miller’s Wildcats will put their paw prints all over the future Pac-12 record books. The future is bright, the sun is shining.
It's a good time to be a Wildcat.