IOWA CITY — The coach who oversaw the Iowa basketball program during the years when Carver-Hawkeye Arena was built came back to see the old place Thursday night and he admitted he barely recognized it.
In fact, Lute Olson said that pretty much applied to the entire University of Iowa athletic complex.
“It’s an unbelievable facility, all of the facilities,’’ Olson told reporters prior to the annual showdown between Iowa and Iowa State. “I went to the football facility and saw a weight room that’s probably a block long. Things have changed so much.
“But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the Iowa people. They’re so nice.’’
Olson, 82, went 167-91 at Iowa from 1974-83 and took the Hawkeyes to their last Final Four and last outright Big 10 championship in 1980. He then went to the University of Arizona, where he compiled a 589-187 record and won the NCAA championship in 1997.
But he still tries to get back to Iowa City from time to time. This was his first visit since attending the Iowa-Pittsburgh football game in 2015. He said there was no special occasion this time, just taking some time to visit with some old friends.
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“I look at my nine years in Iowa as a special time in my life,’’ he said.
Olson was joined Thursday night by some of the players from that 1980 Final Four team, including point guard Ronnie Lester.
Olson said he thought the Hawkeyes would have won an NCAA title that year if Lester had not been injured. He called him the best point guard he’s ever coached.
Lester admitted that season was a bit of a bitter memory but said he cherished his years at Iowa, largely because of the man who brought him there.
“When Coach was recruiting me as a 17-year-old kid, I knew I would have a good experience here,’’ he said. “He promised me I would get a degree, which I did. He promised he would make me a better player, which he did.
“Coach Olson was a role model for me, not just as a coach but as a man, as a husband, as a father, and that kinds of rubs off on you.’’