Even 16-plus years later, the Arizona-Kentucky final from the 1997 national championship proved so compelling that some fans watching it tonight at the Fox Theatre booed when the video was interrupted for player introductions and raffles.
But emcee Joseph Blair made the best of those interruptions anyway, asking each player on hand if they had watched the game before on video (none had, even Lute Olson) and what their best memory of it was.
Here were some of them:
John Ash: “I remember after the game we were in the locker room waiting for the media to get done and we could see on the TVs that Tucson was going crazy. We thought, “let’s get on the bus and go back to Tucson.”
Bennett Davison: “We were on the bus after the game and coach (Lute Olson) and Miles (Simon) were doing an interview, and we thought `Who we playing next? Holy c--- wer’e the No. 1 team in the nation?”
A.J. Bramlett: “The thing I remember most is the camaraderie, the chemistry. Sixteen years later, I love these guys like brothers and that will never change. … and three No. 1 seeds going down. It was something special.”
Lute Olson: “My first concern was that with Jason Stewart (a walk-on who spearheaded team prayers), I wasn’t sure we were going to get out there for the tipoff because once you get him going it’s pretty hard to stop him.
“Then there was the fact that I thought we did a good job of handling the press. In the press conference (the day before) the media had asked coach (Rick) Pitino if they were going to press and he said, `well, I don’t know.’ I knew he wasn’t going to come out right off the bat and press us because that was something we worked against every day in practice, and we had five guys who could handle the ball. Other teams didn't have the kind of passing we had from our big guys.”
Donnell Harris: “My first memory was getting into the game and telling myself, `Donnell, you’ve got to lift your legs.’ I felt like I had bricks in my legs. The second thing was coach O telling me (in overtime) `A.J.’s about to foul out so be ready.’ (Bramlett did foul out shortly afterward).
Miles Simon: “The biggest thing I remember is just how tough our team was and (Olson) just said (at the beginning of overtime) `the toughest team is going to win' and let us take over as players in the overtime.
“We just had smart basketball players who knew how to play basketball the right way … the fundamentals we learned every day, I can see now why it paid off. You never saw Bennett, A.J., Eugene (Edgerson), Mike Dickerson or Mike Bibby doing anything they were not comfortable doing. They were all willing to sacrifice for the team and that’s why we won.”