Fifteen years ago, the Arizona Wildcats, led by Miles Simon, Mike Dickerson and Mike Bibby, knocked off three No. 1 seeds (Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky) to win the National Title. No team has duplicated that feat. Wednesday, thanks to POWERADE’s “Power Through” campaign, we spoke with Simon, who is now an ESPN basketball analyst.
Q: No teams from the Mountain West and Pacific time zones reached the Sweet 16. You’re West Coast guy – what’s wrong with the basketball out there? How can everyone be down at once?
A: I’m not that surprised the Pac-12 was down. In the last 3-4 years, the Pac-10/12 has had the most or second most draft picks of any conference in America. Many of those were underclassmen. UCLA had a lot of transfers, and NBA draft picks … you can’t tell me Malcolm Lee or Tyler Honeycutt shouldn’t be in college and maybe playing this weekend. At Arizona, you couldn’t predict the rise of Derrick Williams to the No. 2 pick. That was a guy you were thinking would stick around for awhile. But the league will rebound – Arizona has a top class coming in, and so does UCLA.
Q: Speaking of UCLA, did you read the Sports Illustrated story? What were your thoughts on it? Is a Reeves Nelson-type player highly unusual or have you seen players like that?
A: Very minor. There was no earth-shattering news in that article. I’m good friends with Ben Howland. If you ask him, he’d say he didn’t do the right thing handling Reeves Nelson and he could have been more strict. But partying and drinking? Probably 90 percent of colleges and teams have those same issues. There were no recruiting or rules violations to get the NCAA involved … I didn’t understand the purpose of the article.
I’ve heard of players acting badly like that. Coaches have had problematic players before and the players will leave or transfer or they just don’t make it in college basketball. Reeves Nelson is not the only player to kick a ball into the stands [and make a manager chase it]. He’s not the only player to foul a teammate hard. People would be naive to think that he’s the only player who has ever done that in the history of college basketball.
Q: One of the best Final Four calls ever: Simon Says, Championship. Did you hear that everywhere you went after winning the title? Do you still hear it? What was life like after beating Kentucky?
A: I heard it in Tucson a little bit, but not in California. I still get it on twitter and facebook. It was something I’d dreamed of since I was kid. I used to go to Final Fours as a kid with my dad – I think I attended six or seven Final Fours before playing in one. It was always a goal I wanted to achieve and to realize that goal was amazing. The week after was crazy. Class was a lot different. People wanting to sign autographs, and students were bringing Sports Illustrated to class and we were signing it … you’re on top of the world.
Q: You and ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb were boys back on the AAU circuit. Any good stories hanging out with him? Who else was on your team?
A: We had Kris Johnson, Tony Gonzalez and JR Henderson – that was our core, or at least names you’d know. Here’s a good Gottlieb pick-up ball story – we were in high school and we used to play at this sports club. Scott Brooks (former NBA player, now the OKC coach) was playing that day. Doug was matched up against Scott Brooks. Doug went down on offense and called a ticky-tack touch foul at the beginning of the game. Scott Brooks proceeded to score the next 15 straight baskets against Doug. After they won, Brooks told him, in very colorful language: “Don’t ever call that foul again if you ever want to play on the same court as me.” Scott Brooks was very good – he was an NBA player at the time. Doug was very good, and went on to play division one, but he was just a high school player back then.
Q: Best player you’ve ever gone up against?
A: Michael Jordan. The summer after we won the Championship, I was a counselor at a basketball camp and all the counselors played pick-up at night. This was in 1997, when Jordan was still very much in his prime. He wanted to go at me because we beat North Carolina in the Final Four. It was a little personal. I was 6-4, maybe 185. He was like 6-6, 215, all muscle, and the best athlete in the world. He took me down to the post and pretty much had his way.
Q: Should college athletes be paid?
A: I don’t think so. I think it’s too dicey. How do you decide how much someone gets paid? How much does a guy at Gonzaga get paid compared to a guy at Kentucky? Do they get paid the same amount? How do you determine that? Just stay with the scholarships, that’s what you came to school for. I just don’t see how you can break it all down.
Q: ESPN’s Jay Bilas is a strong advocate of the idea players should have agents, so they can market themselves. Do you think players having agents is a good idea?
A: I’m not sure. Playing Devil’s Advocate … if you have an agent, can he buy you an S-500 Mercedes? Is that legal? How is the student body going to like that? Can an agent buy you a condo and you pay him back in a couple years when he’s in the league? I think you’re getting into dangerous waters when you do that. Agents front guys money all the time once you turn pro. What are all the rules going to be? There’s already a huge NCAA rule book.