How many father-son combinations can say they each played for the same hall of fame basketball coach during their collegiate careers? This is the case for Rick and Gary Anderson. Wildcat fans remember “Ricky” Anderson as the surfer-boy turned sharp-shooting big man that starred for Arizona from 1998-2003 under former head coach and legendary hall of famer Lute Olson. What some fans may not know is Rick’s father, Gary, played for Olson when Coach “O” was turning the Southern California junior college basketball scene on its head at Long Beach City College.
Gary, the long-time head coach at LBCC, has swapped roles with his former assistant coach Barry Barnes who served under Anderson for six seasons. Entering the Vikings’ 2012-13 campaign, it’s now Anderson as the assistant to Barnes as Gary looks toward semi-retirement, and life as a professor and part-time scratch golfer.
Rick, who played overseas as well as in Argentina down in South America for nearly five seasons following his Wildcat career, today is happily married and living near his hometown of Long Beach where he was a basketball standout at Long Beach Polytechnic. He’s currently pursuing his master’s degree in coaching and hopes to follow in the footsteps of his dad in the decades to come.
I had the opportunity to spend several hours with the Andersons watching the Adidas Nations third place and championship games on Monday. It was several hours well spent with two of the nicest people one could meet, made even more special by the stories each shared from their days being coached by Olson.
For decades, naysayers have tried to dismiss Olson’s success to having top talent, and doing nothing more than rolling the basketballs out onto the floor and letting his guys play. The reputation, from an outsider perspective, had legs due to the fact that Olson wasn’t big on calling late-game timeouts to set up plays, instead relying on his well-coached athletes to make the right decisions in crunch time.
“(Olson) made a man out of you,” said Gary Anderson. “The ones that could hack it became men. Believe me, some guys weren’t transferring out of his program just because they weren’t getting minutes. Something like 10 players transferred out when Ricky was there.”
Gary went on to share a story from his playing days under Olson at LBCC about the type of toughness Coach O demanded from his players every single day.
“Olson used to do this drill in almost every practice. We’d have like six or seven baskets set up and he’d pair different players every day in one-on-one games to seven baskets. My freshman year he had me go up against our all-conference guy. I beat him, pretty good too, and I didn’t think anything of it. Olson was watching and he just gave that guy a stare. The next day (Olson) pairs us up again and we’re going at it hard. You never played the same guy twice, but he did and we went at it. We ended up getting into a fight. Olson didn’t have to say a single word, but he got the result he wanted from his star player.”
Rick had an interesting story as well, talking about the two-word motivational halftime speech Olson delivered during an Arizona road game at Kansas on January 25, 2003. Fans remember this game, right? Arizona trailed 52-39 at halftime as the Jayhawks looked unstoppable in front of a rowdy, home crowd.
“The fans were out of their minds,” said Rick. “Seriously, right dad? You couldn’t hear anything on the court.
“We go into the locker,” Rick continued, “and it’s just dead silent. Coach is looking at all of us and not saying anything. He walks over to me and gets right in my face. I was a senior that year so I guess, you know. He just screams Reeebound Rickyyyyyy! That was it, that’s all he said. Coach Roz just put his hand over his face and didn’t say anything.”
Rick and his fellow Wildcats played with a purpose in the second half. Anderson finished with 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting. More importantly, he pulled down six of his seven rebounds in the final 20 minutes. The Wildcats, fueled by Olson as well as the hot-hand of Salim Stoudamire (32 points, 12/18 FGs), outscored Kansas 52-22 in the final frame to silence the Jayhawks crowd and win going away, 91-74.
“I’ve never known a coach who could say so little, but get so much out of you,” said Gary. “Olson had that way about him. When he talked, you listened. When he didn’t say something, he really had your attention.”
Speaking with Gary, you can see how Olson’s style has rubbed off on him.
“Ricky started out at Milikan (High School),” said Gary. “When we wanted to transfer him to Long Beach Poly, everyone was trying to tell him why should you go there and maybe not play, you can average 20 or 30 here the next two seasons.
“Hey, you have to play against the best, right? If Ricky couldn’t hack it and do well at Poly then he’d know that he doesn’t belong. I remember him at Poly, too. Man, he had so much homework it was unreal. I loved it, watching him have to study so hard every night. It was good for him. If you have to work for something, something hard, and you get through it you know you belong.”
As it turned out, Rick did belong at Long Beach Poly both as a student and an athlete. For the record, Rick averaged 22.7 points per game his senior season in one of California's top leagues.
There’s a reason why Olson is one of only three college coaches to record 29 or more 20-win seasons. It’s the same reason Olson is also one of only 10 coaches to lead his school to five Final Fours (Iowa once, Arizona four times). His 1997 national title saw him reach college basketball’s pinnacle, but to his former players Olson has reached even great heights in their eyes. Stories like those shared by the Andersons are three or four of thousands engrained in the memories of former Olson players at every level of the sport.
Olson treated his players like family. However, to be a part of the family athletes had to put in the work as Olson was famous for pushing every player past their perceived boundaries. Tales of Olson lining the court with trash cans on the first day of practice for those players overcome by the urge to vomit are not fiction. Neither are the stories of his deceased wife, Bobbi, making pancakes for the roster players at the Olson home on weekends.
Olson, indeed, was a special man and a special coach. His greatest gift to the game is the legacy of hard work and tradition passed on to men he helped shape on and off the court; men like Gary and Rick Anderson.
Gary Randazzo is a national basketball analyst and publisher of WildcatSportsReport.com.