There's only one reason why Lute Olson got in trouble with the NCAA: it's Duke's fault. Maybe a little bit UNC's and State's, but really, it's Duke's.
Javier Morales of the Tucson Citizen argues that Arizona only cheated because the Triangle has an unfair advantage because of Bob Gibbons' annual Tournament of Champions.
Curiously however, no one in the Triangle has been accused of cheating themselves when it comes to the Gibbons' event. It's also worth pointing out that it is legal under current NCAA rules, and that what Olson tried to do was the same basic idea, only of course he solicited help and made some mistakes.
We would agree with Morales when it comes to criticizing the NCAA and their often ludicrous and reactionary rules, but the violations occurred in Tucson not North Carolina, and are the responsibility of Olson and his former staff.
All of that aside, Arizona became relevant in basketball because Olson mastered recruiting in the West. When you look down the roster of his players, you'll see a theme: Sean Elliott was from Tucson, Steve Kerr from Colorado, Tom Tolbert, Jud Buechler, Luke Walton, Gilbert Arenas, Chase Budinger, Bison Dele, Richard Jefferson, Chris Mills, and Mike Bibby, from California, the Stoudemire's Jason Terry, and Sean Rooks from Washington, and Channing Frye from Phoenix, among many others from the West.
Olson, among his many other achievements, was one of the first to realize that Seattle had become a significant talent source.
In short, aside from a handful of players - Khalid Reeves, Andre Iguodala, and Kenny Lofton, who may have chosen Arizona as much for the baseball program is the basketball program, Olson recruited in areas where the ACC really has never been particularly strong.
Interestingly, this article extends Olson's legacy in a strange way: while in Tucson, he frequently railed against the so-called East Coast bias and felt that Arizona was a significant disadvantage.
That might be true, but it cuts both ways because most of the players on the list above were simply not going to play on the East Coast.
The bottom line is that Arizona was doing fine and competing for talent and championships on a very high level.
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