PHOENIX — Lute Olson built an empire at Arizona, and a few of his prized pupils now have a major hand in the Suns’ fate.
Coach O set the foundation for Arizona Basketball by signing Suns GM Steve Kerr, an unheralded member of his first UA recruiting class and a shooter who played on Olson’s first great Final Four team in 1988. A couple decades worth of NCAA Tournament appearances later, Suns center Channing Frye was a senior leader on Olson’s last great team, the 2005 squad that came a collapse against Illinois away from the Final Four.
Olson checked in with Kerr, Frye and the rest of the Suns on Wednesday as a courtside guest of Suns owner Robert Sarver, another UA alum who called Olson for advice when he wanted to buy the Suns. The Silver Fox visited the Suns’ locker room after the game.
“I always like talking to him,” Frye said. “He’s an inspiration, he’s the guy who got me where I am, and it’s just a reminder to all these guys missed opportunities not to go to U of A.”
When asked if Olson even recognizes the player who hit six three-pointers in four seasons as a Wildcat, Frye said, “No, but he knows you’ve got to do something to stay in the league. He knows that I’m happy, and he loves to see all his players successful. It’s a big family, and he’s always going to take care of his guys, always going to support us, and that’s just the type of family it is at U of A.”
When asked about this year’s Arizona team, which has struggled a bit out of the gates in losing two of three at the Maui Invitational, Frye spoke in the first person plural of “we” to describe the current Cats, who are trying to extend Olson’s legacy by reaching a 26th straight NCAA Tournament this season.
“I think we’re just young right now,” Frye said. “I think we’re just trying to figure it out. Sean Miller’s doing a great job I think of getting them to play hard, and that’s the first step. Them playing hard is probably the biggest thing. Other than that I’m really just looking forward to watching them grow and looking at a chance to support them during the season.”
How the Suns have started 12-3
The Suns have a lot to be thankful for, leading the NBA with a 12-3 mark that few could have thought was possible when the season started. I asked some of the key players after Wednesday’s game why they think the Suns have gotten off to such a hot start:
Steve Nash: “I just think we have a great understanding of what Alvin wants us to do at both ends of the floor, I think we have great depth, and I think we’ve done a really good job of being tough and gritty at the end of close games. We’ve won the close ones, so that’s really important. Your record could flip flop if you lose them, and last year we lost a lot of those.”
Channing Frye: “The trust that we have in each other. I think we may not play right for a quarter, for a half a quarter, for a half, but I think overall we’ve been trusting each other to do the right things.”
Amare Stoudemire: “I think for the most part we understand our offensive strategies. Our spacing is great. Defensively I think we’ve simplified the defensive strategy out there. Guys are really keying in on that and really focusing in on getting better defensively. And also the chemistry of the team. I think we all get along very well, and it shows on the basketball court. Everybody gets along, we’re having a great time out there, and when you’re having fun and you’re winning it makes the game easier for you and it’s a lot of fun to play.”
Another word on chemistry
I know, I write about chemistry every few days, but I really feel it’s been that important and I’m not alone in that assessment. Amare and Channing, among others, think it’s pretty key, too.
“I think it’s very important,” Amare said. “You’ve got guys from the starters to the last men on the bench that’s having a great time and enjoying themselves, so I think with that being said that keeps everybody happy, keeps everybody going. The chemistry’s phenomenal.”
Channing seems to always be in the middle of all the fun, usually as the butt of a joke. Grant Hill and Amare were ribbing Channing for being Rashard Lewis Wednesday night, to which Channing said, “You make one comment and they kill you.”
Earlier this season the guys enjoyed a laugh when Channing and Jared Dudley realized they both changed into the same outfit after a game, and Channing took a reporter’s recorder and pretended to interview Nash as he was on his way out Wednesday night, leading Nash to say, “He’s a goofy one.”
“We just try to play basketball the right away, and we’re having fun out there. Also I think it’s our chemistry, the fact that those guys can constantly beat me down mentally and still come out and perform,” Frye said, laughing, in reference to the Rashard Lewis teasing. “We’re just having a lot of fun with each other. When you have fun playing with other people you can trust them and hold them accountable and it’s nothing personal.”
A Suns Thanksgiving
As he was finishing up a long answer previewing every stop on the Suns’ upcoming four-game road trip, head coach Alvin Gentry was about to give the obligatory “we’re only thinking about the next game” comment when he thought of an even more immediate short-term focus.
“Actually our focus is not even on Minnesota, actually our focus is on turkey right now,” he said. “Turkey and dressing and cranberries and all that, and then when we come and get on the plane we’ll start focusing in on Minnesota.”
Frye’s family doesn’t eat turkey, but he said he’s starving for whatever his wife and mother cook up. When asked if he helps out, he said, “Me? No, I could barely cook soup. If my wife or mom wasn’t here I’d be Lean Cuisines for days.”
Channing’s cooking skills remind me of a certain Suns blogger you may have read. Must be a U of A thing.
Ever the diplomat
Suns entertainer Cedric Ceballos put proud Dukie Grant Hill on the spot in Wednesday’s postgame interview when he asked Hill who he was rooting for in that night’s Duke-ASU game, imploring the crowd for some strange reason to let him have it for what we all knew was Hill’s answer.
Instead Hill made everybody happy while staying true to himself by exclaiming, “Go Devils!”
Nobody fell from the stands this time
Although I did jokingly warn some of the fans behind my press row seat not to get too excited about the fourth quarter T-shirt toss this time around, I can happily report that no fans fell from the stands into my area Wednesday night.
You might remember me writing about how a 20-something Suns fan who did a bit too much pregaming before Sunday’s game landed on the floor next to my seat after banging his head against my press row table before seemingly losing consciousness and having to be strapped to a stretcher by paramedics.
Thankfully, his friend wrote to ValleyoftheSuns to say he’s fine aside from a big bump on his head. Scary moment at the time, but now that he’s OK I guess it’s safe to say that he’s got a hell of a story to tell his grandkids one day.