By Kaelen Jones
“Changed my whole life, still to this day, 20 years later.”
Twenty years ago, Miles Simon helped lead the University of Arizona men’s basketball team to its first-ever and only NCAA Tournament Championship, an 84-79 overtime victory over Kentucky at Indianapolis.
Simon, who was named the 1997 tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, explained how the accomplishment has “made my life better” during a recent phone interview with Sports360AZ.com’s Brad Cesmat.
“Especially when March comes around,” he said, “the recognition and some of the recognition I receive keeps our team close.”
Members of the Wildcats’ title-winning roster will forever be able to cherish the rarity of accomplishing a feat no other group from Tuscon has yet been able to match.
Simon recalled how momentous the championship run has proven to be not only personally, but for each of his teammates too, mentioning their long-lasting affiliation when the former players met for the team’s 20-year reunion in October.
There’s a “bond that we have because we are the only group that has done it for Arizona so far,” according to Simon. Time has only made the achievement even more special.
So 20yrs ago today the great Coach Olson led a team that wasn’t supposed to get there to a national title!! Amazing group. Love you all!! pic.twitter.com/5TzaLQvcqs
— Miles Simon (@milessimon) March 31, 2017
“Just the tightness of our team from Mike Bibby to Jason Terry, to John Pastner and AJ Bramlett, and all the guys. It’s probably been – basketball-wise – the most influential and important thing I’ve ever done,” Simon said.
Arizona has boasted several top-rated teams since winning it all ahead of the turn of the century. What Simon noted was the uniqueness of the relationship shared between players of both the past and present.
“You already know the Arizona program – as so labeled by Sean Miller and his staff, ‘A Player’s Program’ – it’s a close-knit group of players from the ‘80s all the way ‘til 2017,” he said.
Twenty years ago, March 31, 1997. pic.twitter.com/Yl3tmextSr
— Mike Bibby (@mikebibbycom) March 31, 2017
The support is clear, and it extends not only from Simon, but from the championship-winning squad, as well. The former Wildcats guard and assistant coach says the culture around Arizona is a rarity to see around college basketball today.
“It’s a special thing, and not all programs have that,” Simon said. “And believe me, I’m around college basketball every day, and not all programs have that.”
Here’s a little stroll down memory lane…