What inspired your individual performance in the 1997 NCAA Tournament?
“In high school I won three championships and I never had the belief that I would lose a game. I had supreme confidence in the sense that no one that was ever put in front of me on the court was ever better than I was. I just believe that with the hard work I put in that I was going to win and I think that carried over to my teammates. Jason Terry and Mike Bibby were both winners in high school also. We just had that ultimate belief that we were a match-up problem because of our guard play with Terry, Bibby, (Michael) Dickerson, and myself that who could guard us if any two or three of us were on in any game. It would be pretty hard to stop us and it all clicked at the right time, which is a huge difference maker in the tournament. It all clicked for us during that three week run.”
How important is guard play in the NCAA Tournament?
“I think it is the biggest. You have to have great guards that can control the game, control the pace on both ends of the floor setting the tone defensively. Jason Terry ended up (I think) becoming the all-time steals leader. Michael Dickerson was a great on-ball defender. We played great team defense and it was all started by the guards. We were a team that wanted to run as much as possible and we didn’t necessarily play all four guards at the same time, but our rotations were so good. Myself, Bibby, and Dickerson starting, and Terry coming off the bench to relieve any one of us and he was so versatile playing both guard spots, the point or the two. It just presented so many match-ups because each of us were so unique in our own way. Michael Dickerson was an elite scorer and a sweet jump shooter. Mike Bibby could pass that ball like nobody else with no-looks and had such big hands and could get in the lane whenever. Jason Terry was super energetic off the bench and then myself, I felt I was the toughest of the group and did things in a different way that others couldn’t. It was just a unique thing that Lute Olson was able to recruit all four of us and have us all on the same team at the same time.”
Arizona always has good teams, but you were the only National Champions. What made that team so special?
“I think he (Lute Olson) had a belief in us that he knew our team could be special. We were a little ahead of time. If you remember, we were all underclassmen. I think the plan was to have a year of maturity together because we would return the following season and the next year would be our year. Like I said we just gelled at the right time late in the season. He was the great motivator in the sense and told us to go out there and play, have fun, and he wanted to know who was going to be the toughest team on the floor every time we were out there on the floor and we needed to show we were the toughest team.”
Of South Alabama, College of Charleston, Kansas, Providence, North Carolina, and Kentucky which was the toughest game?
“Probably… the first two games were the most nerve racking because we had to come from behind against South Alabama and College of Charleston. People forget that Charleston had the longest winning streak in the country going into the NCAA Tournament. They had Anthony Johnson and a young man named Thaddeus Delaney who was an excellent big man. We had to comeback with less than 10 minutes to go in both of those games so I would say they were the most nerve racking.
“The Elite 8 game against Providence was really a unique game. We fouled out Austin Croshere who ended up being a lottery pick. Then we had to just hold on in overtime and actually had to survive a last second shot from (I think) Joey Wright for Providence or we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.”
It is a little bit down, but what happened to the Pac-12 Conference recently?
“I think you have to look back to the last three or four years and look at the NBA Draft. I’m not 100 percent sure on the numbers, I did it earlier this year, but either the first or second most draft picks in the past four years have been from the Pac-10/Pac-12, many of those being underclassmen. UCLA losing many of those and also many transfers from UCLA. Arizona losing Derrick Williams, the No. 2 pick in the draft. I think it has been depleted by that in that sense, but the league will turn around. Arizona has the No. 1 class coming in and UCLA has a top 5-10 class coming in next year. Once those two programs are good, because historically those have been the two best and there was like a 20-year span where Arizona or UCLA shared or won the outright title, then you are talking about the league being great again.”
What has Sean Miller done to keep Arizona relevant during a shaky time?
“Sean Miller is awesome. He plays an excellent brand of basketball and recruits at a high level. I think this year the expectations were too high losing their top two scorers in Derrick Williams and MoMo Jones. With what they have coming in next year and what they are returning, expect Arizona to be back at the top of the heap very quickly.”
The transfers seem to be happening at an alarming rate lately. Is this a new thing, a Pac-12 thing, what is going on?
“Man, I don’t think you can just classify this to the Pac-12. It is a national trend. You see high school guys transferring at alarming rates to different schools all the time. Some guys are playing for three high schools in four years or five years. Guys leave their AAU programs on almost daily basis and play. There is not a sense of loyalty anymore, maybe. I don’t think you can just categorize this to the Pac-12 I think you have to look across America and see it is happening everywhere.”
At ESPN you have a lot of former great basketball players. We are celebrating your 15-year anniversary of winning the National Championship. Who has studio bragging rights as the best “ESPN Baller?”
“(Laughs) Unfortunately we are never in the same spot. I don’t know, I’m probably right up there and you have to say Jay Williams is right there. He was the No. 2 pick in the draft, National Player of the Year, and won a National Title. Doug is – Doug was an assist machine in college, couldn’t shoot a lick, but he could do some other things. Jay Bilas had a good career. Hubert Davis had a long NBA career. There is a lot of talent and I would love to get them all out there. Let’s even get Dickie V, Digger Phelps and Bob Knight on the floor too and see what they could do.
What do you remember about that Arizona team?
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