Oct. 30, 2008
LOS ANGELES--Arizona interim head basketball coach Russ Pennell took his first regional public appearance in stride Thursday, fielding questions and representing the UA at the annual Pacific-10 Conference men's basketball media day.
Pennell and junior forward Chase Budinger flew to the city this morning for the trip to the podium and one-on-ones with the league's primary basketball media reporters.
"It's a privilege to be asked to lead the University of Arizona in 2008-09 season," Pennell told the assembly. "I'm excited about that opportunity. I realize all the things that are involved in that statement...The one good thing about being named 'interim' is that we have pretty good players," he said.
The Wildcats were picked to finish fourth by the league's writers, behind UCLA, Arizona State and USC.
"The thing about Arizona, there are so many people that care about this program, and the passion. What I hope we can do is keep that passion going. We are going to compete at a high level.
"Not only will it be entertaining, but we are going to be a team that people can get behind. I know our players need that and our staff needs that. We're not ready to play today, but it can't get here fast enough. We need that. [Lute Olson]'s not going to be around, but we march on," he said.
Pennell said he had spoken with Olson on Wednesday. "He called me yesterday and asked me how things were going. He did not try to tell us what to do. I think he trusts we will do the right thing. He is doing better, but I feel like he has a sense of relief with the diagnoses and now can be treated for that.
"He sounds like he's in good spirits. He was really good about letting us know this is our team and we need to coach it to the best of our ability," Pennell said of his conversation with Olson.
A number of the league coaches weighed in with comments on Olson's recent retirement and news this week that he had suffered a stroke sometime in recent months:
Mike Montgomery, California: "Lute and I go back a long way and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I feel bad for the whole situation and the way it played itself out... This is a tough business. Recruiting has not gotten easier, it is lots of stress. Expectations are very high at Tucson. I wish only the best for Lute in a health perspective, because that is the most important. I wish it hadn't happened the way it did, but he is a true friend and I have to reach out to him at this point"
Ben Howland, UCLA: "It's unbelievable what he accomplished. Next to John Wooden, he has accomplished a lot. I always looked up to him. He handled himself with class. He's already in the Hall of Fame. He is one of the greatest coaches that ever lived."
Lorenzo Romar, Washington:"I would hope the way this ended, people don't lose sight in any way what a marvelous career and what he's done for the game. He is one of the best coaches in the history of the game and has done it the right way. He made Arizona quite special over the years. It's a big loss for our Conference and for college basketball."
THE 2008-09 PAC-10 MEN'S BASKETBALL MEDIA POLL
1. UCLA (37) 379 2. Arizona State (1) 325 3. USC 292 4. Arizona 241 5. Washington 217 6. Washington State 188 7. Oregon 147 8. California 143 9. Stanford 115 10. Oregon State 40 First place votes in parentheses