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Originally published Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

Pac-10 basketball having a strange offseason

Buckle your seat belt, grab on to your hat and lean hard toward the middle. Pac-10 basketball is in the middle of the wildest, freakiest...

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Buckle your seat belt, grab on to your hat and lean hard toward the middle. Pac-10 basketball is in the middle of the wildest, freakiest, zaniest, most explosive, bizarro few weeks in its history.

Space limitations prevent a proper airing of all the goings-on. But if your neighbor happened to take off a couple of weeks ago for someplace without a TV set and a laptop, he's not likely to believe the update you're about to give him:

• Lute Olson reseated himself at the head table of Arizona basketball in a combative news conference in Tucson televised live and advised media people that two glasses of wine a day would be a good idea.

• California pilfered Mike Montgomery from a position in the athletic department at Stanford, the most celebrated heist since Cal students kidnapped the tree mascot from the Cardinal.

• Stanford ran off a coach who had just taken the school to the Sweet 16.

• The coach at Washington State turned down the job at Indiana.

• Oregon State hired Barack Obama's brother-in-law to coach its team, which already has cynics asking the question: If Obama gets elected next November, who will have the tougher job, he or the brother-in-law?

What's next, then? Has the Dalai Lama expressed interest in replacing Trent Johnson at Stanford? Suppose John Wooden is notifying third parties that he's still got it at age 97?

In the Pac-10 this spring, the more things change, the more things get preposterous.

Maybe that's a good thing, obscuring the fact the league appears certain to trend downward next season; one NBA draft Web site has eight of the top 20 June picks coming from the Pac-10. In an early assessment of best prospective Western teams for 2008-09, Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen settled on Gonzaga, St. Mary's and UNLV before getting to any Pac-10 program.

After its most grueling season in history, the league had an unsatisfying March. True, its three Sweet 16 teams were equaled only by the Big East, but half its six entries were gone in one game. Look at it this way: The over-under on total Pac-10 wins was 9 ½; it went bust at eight.

Now, Kevin Love and Darren Collison are assumed gone from UCLA, and Russell Westbrook might be. The Lopez twins have exited Stanford. O.J. Mayo is out of USC and Jerryd Bayless is gone from Arizona; one-and-done described not only their careers but their teams' postseason. Chase Budinger is a question mark at Arizona, but he figures both to test and interview well for the NBA.

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Even if Budinger joins Bayless in leaving, it can hardly make Olson more cantankerous.

In a news conference that can only be termed embarrassing to Arizona, Olson announced that his contractual successor, Kevin O'Neill, wouldn't be returning next year on his staff, unbeknown to either O'Neill or athletic director Jim Livengood; repeatedly referred to one reporter as "Columbo;" rekindled an old feud with columnist Hansen; implied to one reporter that she had explored a rumor that his leave of absence was spent partly at a rehab facility, and then clarified, "I'll have some wine occasionally for medicinal purposes. My doctor says I should have two glasses of wine, and all of you in here should, too, or grape juice would do it, I guess."

What do you add at a time like this? I mean, other than: Get a grip, Lute.

Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, Montgomery was nearing Rick Majerus' record for name-dropped-in-coaching-searches — when he moved across the water to Cal. Then, all of a sudden, Stanford was looking, too, after some palace intrigue at Maples Pavilion.

Johnson's contract had lapsed into its final year, and while athletic director Bob Bowlsby was saying the right things, time was ticking. No doubt feeling some chill, Johnson was off to Louisiana State.

Whither Stanford? Mark Few of Gonzaga is a name out there, but two factors seem to argue forcefully otherwise: He'd like to coach wunderkind Austin Daye next year, and it's doubtful the Cardinal would match Few's price range.

Tony Bennett of Washington State, maybe? He was everybody's favorite candidate for 10 days, but Bennett just announced he's staying at WSU. Besides, when somebody brought up the Cal job a while back, Bennett made it known he wouldn't entertain any notion of a new address within the conference.

Or maybe he figured there's enough slapstick in the Pac-10 already.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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