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Wednesday, January 3, 2001
Bobbi Olson, 65, had ovarian cancer

TUCSON, Ariz. -- To Arizona's basketball players, Bobbi Olson did so much more than cheer from the sidelines.

Bobbi Olson
Bobbi Olson and Lute Olson celebrated Arizona's 1997 national title as a team. Bobbi Olson lost her 2½-year battle with cancer on Monday.

"She was like a second mother to me," said Portland Trail Blazers guard Damon Stoudamire, who played for Arizona from 1991 to 1995. "Their door was always open, and she treated me like I was her own. I couldn't have asked for more."

Bobbi Olson, the wife of coach Lute Olson for 47 years, died Monday at 65 after a 2½-year battle with ovarian cancer.

Her husband, who has been at Arizona 18 years, has been on an indefinite leave since Saturday. He was by her side, along with other family members.

Bobbi Olson was a big part of recruiting at Arizona. She even cooked pancakes for prospective players when they visited the campus.

Forward Eugene Edgerson said any recruit had to receive her approval before making the team.

"Mrs. Olson was very instrumental," forward Richard Jefferson added.

Her cancer was diagnosed more than two years ago after she returned from a vacation in Hungary. Doctors spoke optimistically when she showed remarkable improvement after initial chemotherapy treatments. The cancer reappeared last year, and she died at University Medical Center.

"Bobbi faced her illness with great courage," Lute Olson said. "Her love of family remained her priority and even in her last moments she continued taking care of and comforting all of us as only a wife and mother can do."

Olson thanked Tucson residents for their support and respect of the family's privacy.

Funeral services will be private. A memorial service will be held Sunday at 3 p.m. at McKale Center where the team plays its home games. Additionally, a memorial fund has been established at the Arizona Cancer Center at the University of Arizona.

Jim Rosborough, the associate head coach currently running the team, canceled Monday morning's practice after breaking the news to the team. He declined to say when Olson might return.

"Clearly it's a situation when he's ready everybody would want him back," Rosborough said. "But we haven't discussed it yet."

Athletic director Jim Livengood said it was no coincidence the Wildcats, who were No. 1 in the preseason poll, have struggled trying to keep their minds on basketball. Arizona is 7-4.

Bobbi Olson, born Roberta Rae Russell, was admired for her community involvement and fund-raising efforts for charitable organizations.

She also was praised for the grace and grit with which she faced her illness.

"I just feel I've had a wonderful life," she told The Arizona Daily Star in April. "God has a plan for all of us, and if that's his plan, that will be it."

Stoudamire said he was brought to tears while speaking with his former coach on the phone.

"Coach is holding up, but obviously it's a tough thing," Stoudamire said Monday night. "They were best friends."

Stoudamire hopes to travel to Tucson for the funeral.

Jason Terry, now with the Atlanta Hawks, told the Tucson Citizen that a highlight of the team's 1997 national championship was seeing Bobbi Olson's face light up during the celebration.

"That was probably the brightest I've ever seen it," he said.

Mike Bibby, who played with Terry on that team and is now with the Vancouver Grizzlies, recalled when Bobbi and Lute Olson made a recruiting visit. He remembers her words of encouragement coupled with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"That helped me out a lot that she cared," he said.

Vitale: Remembering Bobbi Olson

Katz: Olson will return to Wildcats when time is right  HELP |  ADVERTISER INFO |  CONTACT US |  TOOLS |  SITE MAP
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