Dear Coach Miller,
I am writing today to tell you the story of a program and the legacy of a player.
In the beginning there was Lute Olson. He came to the caliche hardened earth of the Tucson desert and grew from nothing one of the most prominent, successful basketball programs in the nation. For years, Tucsonans basked in the glow of Lute's silver hair and unmatched success: 11 Pac-10 Championships, 22 consecutive tournament appearances, 4 Final Fours, 21 20 win seasons, 17 All Americans, and of course 1997. Lute Olson was the face of the program and immediately the most recognizable man in Tucson. His stature, good looks, and even keel gave him an aura and mystique that was rare for a desert town with no movie stars or professional athletes. We thought he would never leave.
Of course Lute would eventually leave; not even he could withstand the hands of time. People will talk about the mess he left in his bumpy exit. National talking heads will compare him to Eddie Sutton and scold him for not being more dignified in his departure. However, in Tucson--where time stops for a University of Arizona game--fans have come to realize something else: though it was Lute who built the program, it is Arizona that endures.
Our allegiance lies with the players on the court; it lives in McKale Center, with the banners in the rafters, the retired jerseys, the barber pole striped pep band, and with Ooh-Ah man. Our allegiance has been tested in these years of turmoil, but it could not leave with Lute because it is mercilessly tied to the players that don the cardinal and blue and proudly strap Arizona across their chest. Never has the unwavering allegiance to our players been more needed than during these last several years where we watched the last of Lute's recruiting well dry up and teams struggle to uncertain conclusions to their seasons.
However, there was one player that never gave in or gave up. He endured the waning years of Lute; he lasted through a volatile year with the temporary heir apparent Kevin O'Neil; treated us to a season with Russ, Mike, Dewey and the Big Three; and for his victory lap has ushered in the era of Sean Miller. He allowed tormented Arizona fans to hold onto a thread of continuity and hope. And he proudly, without faltering, represented the University, his teammates, his fans and our town.
He is Nic Wise.
Nic Wise: the last remaining vestige of a bygone era; the kid who wanted to play for Arizona when he was 15 years old; the young man who put his faith in the Arizona program despite the storm of uncertainty raging around him; the competitor who played through injuries, and fatigue; the senior who will play his last home game Saturday in front of three of his last four college coaches; the man who took a back seat to a coach and helped guide a group of boys (who will be the future of Arizona basketball) in the right direction for the first time in four years.
He was never the player of the year--not even an All-American. He didn't win a Pac-10 Championship and never went to the final four. Yet he--perhaps more than any other--deserves to have his jersey hang with Kerr, Elliot, Bibby and Gardner. His numbers will never compare. Yet here is a man that devoted four years of his life so that a program we took for granted for decades could survive.
When fans look back on these last four years, many will remember the end of the Lute Olson era. Many more will remember the beginning of the Sean Miller era. However, it is Nic Wise --the only perceivable element of stability in the last four years--that should be remembered. Nic Wise proudly wore the Arizona jersey despite a coaching carousel; despite lagging attendance; and in lieu of other opportunities. No one would have blamed him if he left.
Instead, Nic Wise reminded us that it is the A-R-I-Z-O-N-A that endures, and he gave his entire body, mind and soul to make sure that it would.
And for that Coach Miller, please see to it that Nic Wise's jersey hangs in the rafters.
Please submit your letters to Coach Miller in our comments section or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply leave a comment. You know Nic deserves it.