If you lived in Tucson 30 years ago this month, you will probably remember Lute Olson flying to Kentucky, meeting with the new UK athletic director CENTIMETER. Newton and sending basketball fans to Arizona in a state of deep anxiety.
Newton hoped that Olson would replace Eddie Sutton and quickly restore Kentucky's reputation, heavily damaged by allegations of academic fraud and illegal payments to basketball recruits.
The NCAA eventually put Kentucky in three years of probation, excluding it from the 1990 and 1991 NCAA tournaments. Other than the fall of Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV, it was probably the highest profile college basketball scandal until the ongoing corruption investigation began 18 months ago.
Olson returned to Arizona and accepted more financial rewards from the school; UA fans gave him the complete "we love you, lute" treatment.
Sutton was never charged with crimes or misdeeds in Kentucky, though one of his assistants – the current trainer of the Detroit Pistons Dwane Casey – was accused of sending $ 1,000 in a night mail envelope to Claud Mills, father of the Kentucky freshman Chris Mills, which later became one of the best players in the history of Arizona.
Casey was fired from Kentucky and banned from college basketball for five years, although he was later determined that he was not involved in sending the $ 1,000 package to Claud Mills. Casey successfully sued shipping company Emery Worldwide, reaching an undisclosed settlement.
While the Arizona awaits the closure of the current FBI investigations on the corruption of university basketball, it is interesting to remember how the officials of the University of Kentucky reacted to the 1989 case.
Sutton and UK Athletic Director Cliff Hagan, one of the Kentucky basketball legends, both resigned.
Sutton said the day he resigned: "I have decided for the sake of the program, for the fans, for the players and above all for my family, I will resign right now. I don't want to suffer the University of Kentucky ".
Sutton had been unemployed for a year. At the age of 54 he was hired in the state of Oklahoma. Sutton has coached the Cowboys for 16 seasons, making 13 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and two Final Fours.
So the president of the United Kingdom David Roselle "I am proud of Coach Sutton's willingness to acknowledge that his resignation is a necessary step in the process of rebuilding our basketball program."
Many were premature in predicting a blow to the Kentucky program.
"For me, Kentucky done to obtain the death penalty, "Syracuse & s Jim Boeheim he said in 1989. "The time it took the NCAA to go down with the sanctions would have the worst impact of all. The Kentucky program was blocked."
Instead, the United Kingdom basketball program is back, a force, in record time.
Kentucky hired Rick Pitino away from the New York Knicks, he participated in two NCAA tournaments and then moved to the Final Four in Pitino's fourth season in 1993, just as Chris Mills ended his career in Arizona.
Eddie Sutton, Claud Mills and Cliff Hagan were soon forgotten. The Kentucky basketball program has gone to eight Final Fours.
I'm not suggesting Sean Miller resign, or that UA president Robert C. Robbins being proactive in resuming the Arizona basketball program the way Roselle did in the UK 30 years ago.
But I'm saying that whatever happens in a New York courtroom this week – or in a future NCAA survey of the Arizona basketball program – is a precedent for better days and perhaps sooner than many imagine.