Long and surprising NCAA Tournament runs can make you a legend. Miles Simon‘s play in 1997 definitely helped cement his legacy in Arizona. While leading his No. 4-seeded Wildcats to an NCAA Championship, doing it by becoming the only team to ever beat three top seeds in the same tournament, Simon was named the Most Outstanding Player. The one-man performance still resonates 15 years later.
With March Madness in full swing, we recently got a chance to catch up with Simon to talk about this year’s tournament, as well as reminisce on one of our favorites college teams of all time, the 1997 Arizona Wildcats.
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What are your thoughts on the NCAA Tournament so far?
“It has been really interesting in the fact that it has kind of gone chalk. In each region three of the top four seeds are still alive. I don’t know how often you see that nowadays. You still have a couple of Cinderella stories with Ohio (Bobcats) and D.J. Cooper. N.C. State the last team that was announced to make the tournament, I thought they were going to be in, but happened to be about where they were going to be positioned. The storyline of Syracuse has been great throughout the year and then Fab Melo is ineligible right before the Tournament. And then can Kentucky and John Calipari with all his great underclassmen finally break through and win that National Championship? There are a lot of great storylines.”
What about mid-majors?
“Doug (Gottlieb) is a good friend of mine, but I would disagree in the fact that if you look at the rankings throughout the year the Top 10 once it got solidified in January it kind of stayed the same. Michigan State propelled themselves into the Top 10, Syracuse, Kentucky, Baylor, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, those were the teams. It didn’t fluxuate a lot. In a different sense I thought it was going to be a top heavy Sweet 16 and into the Final Four. I thought that was how it was going to go and it played itself out that way.”
On a potential bracket re-set.
“Wow. I had (North) Carolina winning it all. Now things change without Kendall Marshall. We don’t know when he will play or if he is going to play or what his situation is going to be. Kentucky’s has to be the odds-on favorite. I had Vanderbilt. I fell to their trap after winning the SEC Championship and the Fab Melo thing. I thought maybe they would get there and now I would have to shift back to Syracuse. To answer the question I have to go with Kentucky, Syracuse, and I still have to roll with North Carolina. I somehow think Marshall will play at some point… maybe it is not in the next game, maybe it is the Elite 8. I like Marquette. They were my first instinct to go, then I looked at the numbers and Missouri changed my mind. In a bracket reset I have to go with DJO (Darius Johnson-Odom) and Jae Crowder and what they have been doing.”
How would you attack a “weakened” North Carolina if you are D.J. Cooper and Ohio?
“I’m feeling really confident, but I don’t want to get overly confident. I want to make sure I am in attack mode if I have Stilman White or Justin Watts guarding me. If I have to guard them on the other end I want to pressure them and make them feel as uncomfortable as possible. They are thrust into the spotlight and all eyes are on them or whoever is going to play point for North Carolina. If I can make them a little bit tighter than they already might be after the ball is tipped up then that is to my advantage.”
Can Ohio beat North Carolina?
“Anything can happen. This is why Roy Williams recruits guys like Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller that regardless if you have Kendall Marshall those guys should be able to put up 18-25 points apiece somewhere in a game and dominate a game in light of not having one of your better players.”
You are pretty familiar with being an underdog, what would your message be to an Ohio, N.C. State, or Xavier in the locker room before the tip?
“Just believe. Have great confidence in yourself, your teammates, and your coaching staff. Confidence is a big thing in basketball and if you come out tentative or with any doubt you already put yourself behind the eight ball in that game. Just believe and know in your abilities and what you are capable of that got you here to this point.”
PowerAde is really pushing that message and you are a part of that. How did that come about?
“I am involved with PowerAde and have been fortunate enough to team up with them. PowerAde is the official sports drink of the NCAA Championship and they personify the underdog. Inspiring athletes to so called ‘power through.’ We are celebrating the 15-year anniversary of my Arizona Wildcats 1997 National Championship team as you mentioned before. We are the first and only team to ever beat three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Our team just fits their motto. Fifteen years ago nobody gave our team a chance to win at all after we finished fifth in the PAC-10. We did not have any kind of momentum going into the NCAA Tournament, but we had known how hard we had worked and that we had ‘powered through’ a lot of adversity during that season. I was suspended earlier in the year because of academics and to be able to bring that first National Championship, and play that underdog role is something that everyone can follow and believe in. That is how I was lucky and able to team up with PowerAde and get on this ‘power through’ campaign.”