Monday was the second annual Catsys, an award show that recognizes the top student-athletes of 2017-18. Former Arizona basketball standouts Miles Simon and Richard Jefferson along with singer-songwriter Kelley James were the hosts.
Simon and Jefferson took a few minutes on the red carpet to talk about how their year went, and the new Lute Olson statue.
What’s it like to be back in Tucson?
RJ: “It’s really, really awesome. Obviously for me, Miles was the one that started a trend here. He won a national championship and started recruiting me and Luke Walton on our visit so when I had the opportunity to come back and host (The Catsys) with him, it was a no-brainer. And I get to talk a lot of (stuff) to him that made it a lot of fun.”
How was your season in the NBA?
RJ: “My year? Eventful. I get waived for peanut butter and jelly, I got traded for that, that was awesome. If you guys are unfamiliar with that, that’s LeBron’s bromance (with Dwyane Wade) and it worked out really well for them. What are they, the four seed? Wow. Squeaked in there, nobody will see them coming. At the end of the day, if you’re fortunate to have a job to be playing in this league, you’re just happy to be playing.”
Miles, how was it being a part of Luke Walton’s staff with the Los Angeles Lakers?
MS: “Tremendous, great learning experience. Working for Luke was unbelievable. What a great basketball mind that he is and for me, I was a Lakers fan growing up since I’ve been 8, 9 years old. My boss is literally my idol, Magic Johnson. It was a tremendous experience, we have a great, young team with Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball who are all so fun to be around, but it was the best experience I could’ve asked for.”
What are your thoughts on Lute Olson getting a statue?
MS: “Well-deserved. When Greg Byrne called me and said I was getting my jersey retired, the only text Coach Olson sent me was ‘It’s about time.’ And I would say the same thing, it’s about time. It’s more than well-deserved. Obviously he’s a legend in the coaching game and a great mentor, coach and friend to all of his players and coaches. Well-deserved and it’s about time.”
RJ: “There’s a lot of people who have contributed to the success of this university. The notoriety of all sports, I’ll never just put it on men’s basketball, but from a national standpoint, he kind of put Tucson on a map. He made kids from all over the country want to come to Tucson. He made the best athletes and future millionaires want to come to Tucson, Arizona. It was easy for me as a kid from Phoenix, but for Miles that could’ve gone to UCLA … with all of the history they have there with John Wooden. For guys to turn those things down to come play here at this university, it was (Olson). No disrespect, I love Tucson — it’s like a second home — but it wasn’t Tucson, it wasn’t the campus, it was him. He was a guy that mentored all of us and was like our father, brother and grandfather. He did it at such a high level that he really put Tucson on the national stage. And so now when I watch “Family Guy” and I see them making fun of Tucson, it’s purely based off of the recognition of the men’s basketball program."
Have you seen the statue?
RJ: “I have yet to see it. When this event is over with, I’m going to go over and drink with it so that’s going to be really, really fun."
When Olson recruited you to Arizona, what made you pick UA over other schools?
MS: “For me, it was you had to earn everything and I know recruiting has changed over the last 20-25 years. He never guaranteed anybody any starting spot, you had to earn everything that you got, but you had the opportunity to earn it. That was probably one of the biggest selling points was that I was going to come in, work hard and play with other really good players.”
RJ: “The competition in every single game or every single day in practice. You can talk about guys that have been successful in the NBA, but really it’s the guys that got better from year one to year four. Guys that were mildly recruited — mid-major, nothing high level like Duke or Kentucky, but all of a sudden by their fourth year, they were first-team All-Americans and that’s a testament to his ability to not only coach people, but also challenge them. Like Miles, no one knew who he was, he comes from a small school in California and no one had ever heard of him. Here he was by his senior year and he’s a first-team All-American. That right there deserves a statue that he allowed Miles to be successful in this program.”