Olson participates in Wildcats' senior day ceremony, remains silent

Updated: March 2, 2008, 9:37 PM ET
Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Questions have swirled about Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson's future since he went on a leave of absence for undisclosed personal reasons in November.

The Hall of Famer provided no answers during a rare public appearance at McKale Center on Sunday.

Olson participated in a ceremony honoring the Wildcats' seniors after a 68-66 loss to No. 4 UCLA, their final scheduled home game, but did not speak to the crowd.

CBS analyst Billy Packer embraced a smiling Olson when he left the floor. As Olson walked toward the Wildcats' basketball offices, two reporters attempted to speak to him. An unidentified McKale Center security worker stopped them and said, "He specifically said he did not want to be bothered. He is not taking questions."

And there were plenty of questions.

Will the 73-year-old Olson be back next season? What about interim coach Kevin O'Neill, who has been designated Olson's permanent successor?

Is there a rift between Olson and O'Neill, as reported by CBS on Sunday?

O'Neill denied the report.

"There is no problem at all between Lute and I," said O'Neill, a one-time Wildcats assistant who was rehired by Olson last spring to help shore up Arizona's defense. "I'm comfortable with my relationship with Lute, and I have been ever since I worked here the last time.

"I think there will probably be a lot of speculation around our situation as we go into March here, because everybody's going to be wondering what's going on -- is Coach coming back, isn't he coming back, all of those kinds of things," O'Neill said.

"I've let Lute really have his space to take care of his personal matters," O'Neill said. "It's his basketball program; I'm just caretaking it for now. And I don't think any of us knows exactly what the future brings for any of us."

In December, Arizona announced that O'Neill would be the permanent successor as soon as Olson retired. Olson has indicated that he plans to coach again next season.

Asked if he would return as an assistant to Olson, O'Neill said, "I decide every year I coach what I'm going to do at the end of the year. There's nothing different than that."

Olson apparently did not sit in the stands during the game. His estranged wife, Christine, watched from a courtside seat across from the visiting bench.

Olson filed for divorce on Dec. 6, the same day he announced his leave of absence would be extended for the rest of the season. In January, Christine Olson filed a court challenge to her husband's attempt to divorce her.

Olson's professional and personal lives are topics of great interest in this basketball-obsessed town. Fans cheered when Olson, dressed in his trademark navy blazer, strode onto the court named for him and his late wife, Bobbi. Olson spoke briefly to each of the seniors, whom he had recruited.

O'Neill said it was "the right thing, coming down there and seeing those guys off."

Senior Jawann McClellan said he was surprised to see Olson but glad that he attended the ceremony.

"It was very emotional," said McClellan, a guard from Houston who overcame knee and wrist injuries. "I wasn't expecting it. I wasn't able to play for him this year, but we go back to when he was recruiting me, and of course we're close. As I was about to walk away, he wouldn't let me go. Of course I'm going to miss him."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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