Arizona exhibition basketball games often have represented favors of sorts, with invitations extended to an opposing coach who is a friend, former protégé or player.
So before he retired, former UA coach Lute Olson set up a 2008 exhibition with Incarnate Word, led by former assistant coach Ken Burmeister. Then he arranged a 2009 exhibition against former graduate assistant Tom Billeter, coach of Augustana (S.D.) College.
Then that was supposed to be it.
Except Sean Miller didn't want it to end.
"It was kind of a weird deal," Billeter said. "I kind of understood with Coach Olson, he would have Burmey one year and then me, and we'd switch, but that changed when Coach retired. Then Sean just happened to call me last spring and asked if we would be interested in coming out again."
While Miller said it was great to bring individuals from past teams "back as part of our future," the invitation wasn't all about Wildcat blood.
It was because Miller wanted somebody good to play. Augustana, the South Dakota school not to be confused with its Division III cousin in Illinois, lost to Arizona 92-76 last season but matched the Wildcats' 42 points in the second half despite not having its best player available.
Then the Vikings went 24-7 and reached the Division II Sweet 16.
"They really did a great job against us last year," Miller said. "I'm glad to welcome them back."
Here are five other things worth knowing about today's exhibition, Arizona's only public one before it opens the regular season next Sunday against Idaho State.
1. Augustana won't back down. Miller has said repeatedly during the preseason about how he wants to improve offensive rebounding and two-point percentage defense. One reason he invited Augustana back was that he knew the Vikings would be tough, even if they aren't as talented as last year. Miller said after last season's game that part of the reason for the 42-42 second-half tie was that the Wildcats were "out-physicaled," which led to fouling.
"We want to play against a quality team, a well-coached team and a team that executes," Miller said last week. "When we played against them last year, they were well-coached, were physical and screened."
2. Billeter is grateful. For the Vikings, the game isn't just about the exposure, money or even the weather. It's about the competition, a chance to play the kind of game that is increasingly difficult for Division II teams to get.
With the trend of teams such as Arizona playing private scrimmages instead of exhibitions, there are fewer good openings for Division II schools. Plus, in Billeter's case, politics keeps him from getting games.
"I've known (Kansas coach) Bill Self for a long time and he wants to play us," Billeter said. "But they have to play an in-state school in Kansas. Tubby (Smith, Minnesota coach) agreed to play me and set the game up, but then he called to apologize because his AD said they have to play state schools. And we're literally only seven miles from the (Minnesota) border. So it was great for us that Sean called."
3. Olson may have mixed emotions. A regular at UA home games, Olson will have strong ties to both teams. Last season, he visited with the Vikings and went to dinner with Billeter. Although Billeter served on Olson's staff for only two seasons - l985-86 and 1986-87 - their bond remained when Billeter went with former UA assistant Scott Thompson to the Rice coaching staff in 1987.
"Scott really helped me stay in touch," Billeter said. "For seven years I was with Scott or Coach (Olson) so that really helped."
4. Miller will use not only different players, but different looks. After facing Utah in a private scrimmage last weekend, the Wildcats realized their need for a bigger lineup at times. So look for Derrick Williams to play power forward, Jamelle Horne to play small forward and even Kevin Parrom to play some shooting guard.
"We're much different if Derrick's at the four, Kyryl (Natyazhko) is at the five and Solomon (Hill) or Jamelle is at the three," Miller said. "We have to adapt and adjust. It may help us on defense."
5. Natyazhko needs a comfort zone. Miller will play Natyazhko at center some of the game and hope he can get adequate rebounding out of the Ukrainian sophomore, though the coach has found he still doesn't have a true inside presence offensively.
"Just watching and coaching him one of the things I don't want to do is make him something he's not," Miller said. "There's a lot of 6-10 players who add great value but don't score in the post. He really can screen because of his size and he's really fluid that way. He really shoots the basketball well from 15-17 feet. So we're thinking about him more in those terms and less about what he can't do.
"I believe he's headed in the right direction. His improvement is a big thing for our team."
• What: Augustana College at Arizona (exhibition)
• When: 4 p.m.
• Webcast: arizonawildcats.com