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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Relive Miles Simon’s ‘unbelievable’ championship run with the Arizona Wildcats 1997 team

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(Courtesy Arizona Athletics) Miles Simon played guard for UA from 1995-98. Simon is the only UA player to be selected as a Final Four M.O.P.

Editors note: Miles Simon and the rest of the 1997 National Championship team will be in attendance at the Red-Blue Game in McKale Center on Friday for the 20th anniversary celebration of Arizona basketball’s lone title.

Arizona basketball has become known for producing NBA talent since Lute Olson took the reins in 1983. The program has produced more than 50 NBA draft picks since Olson took over, and his players have won countless collegiate awards as well. Of all the great players to come through Arizona, no one took advantage of being in the right place at the right time more than Miles Simon.

Simon left his mark on the program during Arizona’s 1997 championship run. The guard was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player after dropping a cool 54 points over the course of the final two games.

“This is the most unbelievable thing I have ever done,” Simon said after the final buzzer sounded in the national championship game.

It was a dream season, but it started as a nightmare.

RELATED: Jason Terry learned from freshman year to lead Arizona basketball to 1997 national championship

Simon was forced to sit out the Wildcats’ first 11 games of the 1997 season due to academic eligibility issues. He was the team’s returning lead scorer, but Arizona was able to fill the gap with Jason Terry during his absence. Olson decided to bring Simon off the bench once he became eligible.

The 1997 Wildcats were a young team, and without Simon, they wouldn’t have had a true leader. Terry would eventually tell Olson to put Simon back in the starting lineup, and Olson agreed.

“We knew we weren’t going to have any seniors, so the leadership was going to have to come from somewhere,” Olson told philly.com before the Final Four. “We knew we had to have good, positive leadership. Miles has done a great job. This group is as together as any team that I’ve been involved with.”

The togetherness Olson referred to was vital to the Wildcats’ take down of three No. 1 seeds in the tournament. Simon made a name for himself in those three games, but his impact on the Wildcats tournament run began right from the start.

The Wildcats found themselves down 53-43 to No. 13-seeded South Alabama with under eight minutes to play in the first round. Simon scored nine points in the final minutes of the game, helping spark a 17-0 Arizona run.

The Wildcats faced Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen and upset the team many considered to be the best in the nation that year. Simon scored 17 points in the contest, but it was the Elite Eight matchup against the Providence Friars where Simon’s true legacy began.

Simon was the game’s leading scorer with 30 points in an overtime battle with the Friars. The nightmare beginning for Simon had turned into a dream come true; Arizona was headed to the Final Four.

RELATED: Michael Dickerson: Lost man among 1997 Arizona basketball championship team

He posted 24 points in the rematch with North Carolina in the national semifinal, and followed it with a legendary 30-point performance in the title game against the Kentucky Wildcats.

Simon made 14-of-17 free throws against Kentucky, helping Arizona control the pace. In comparison, Kentucky attempted 17 free throws as a team, making only nine.

Simon came back for his senior season and was named a consensus first-team All-American. The Orlando Magic made Simon the 42nd overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft the following summer. He spent one short year in the NBA before playing in multiple leagues overseas. Simon returned to Tucson and served as Arizona’s assistant coach from 2005-2008.

Simon’s jersey will be recognized in the McKale Center rafters Friday at the Red-Blue Game.


Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.


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