Wildcat greats meet the fans

Steve Kerr was one of many former Wildcat basketball players on hand at the Foothill Malls Friday afternoon as part of Cat Tracks On the Air's radio tribute to 100 years of Arizona basketball. Others making an appearance included Miles Simon, Pete Williams and Joe McLean.

Although the guest of honor got a bit sidetracked en route to the Foothills Mall and didn't arrive until 2 pm, legions of fans patiently stood in line waiting for an autograph. As it turned out, they were treated to a half dozen other former players who took the time to say hello.

After concluding his playing career with Arizona in 1996, Joe McLean landed spots with 11 European teams in a three-year span. He also froze his butt off in Bismarck with the CBA.

"You could put your food and soda up to the window and it would freeze overnight," McLean said. "It was the worst six months of my life. We slept in churches. We slept in diners. There were times they'd shut down the whole state, 20-hour bus rides, putting the uniform on in the bus to arrive and play."

And those hardships paled in comparison to McLean's stint with an Australian team, a stint that almost cost him his life.

"There was a near-death experience in China," McLean said. "We were playing the Shanghai Dragons with Yao Ming, who was 16-years-old at the time. We had just bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia by mistake, and there was a lot of animosity. A fight broke out and they threw hundreds of glass Evian bottles at the crew. A lot of people got hurt. That was one of those 'For Love of the Game' things. What the heck am I doing here in China playing basketball? I saw fans shoot flare guns at the referees if they made a bad call. You could probably write a book on those experiences. If I had to choose five years in the NBA or five with this route, I'd do this again. It was an incredible experience."

Miles Simon continues his long trek toward the NBA. For the MVP of the NCAA championship, it's not supposed to be like this. Always getting the door to the League cracked, only to have it shut. From the CBA to encounters overseas, Simon has seen his share of odd occurrences as well.

"I played in Venezuela earlier this year and the President of my team got held up at gunpoint after coming from the bank," Simon said. "The President got held up in the gym. The thief followed our President to his office in the gym. We could see it. It was about 50 feet away from us. I left the country two days later."

Simon continues to rehab a bum knee and is enrolled at the UA to complete his degree. When medterm he'll make another push toward his NBA dream.

"I'm not going to give up," Simon said. "As long as my body lets me I'll do it for another six or seven years and then start my coaching career."

Pete Williams is mentioned by Arizona Coach Lute Olson as being instrumental in the program's growth almost as much as Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr.

"We started the baton," Williams said. "Sean and Company took it to another level, and it's been rolling ever since. My kids are Arizona fanatics, and I'm glad they're willing to witness this whole thing."

They were able to witness a lot of Williams' long playing career. The undersized center played 10 years in Turkey and another in Japan before calling it quits three years ago. But looking at him today, it would be easy to imagine this 40-year-old physical specimen on the floor again.

"I could still get out on the court and play if I wanted to," Williams said. "I can surprise people. I think I'll be 50 years old and running and jumping and still slam dunking. When my kids are old enough to understand what I did, they'll be blown away."

John Edgar was part of the rebuilding effort as well, and now that Arizona has the top of the college basketball world, the soon-to-be State Farm agent in Virginia Beach can look back at his accomplishments with pride.

"Now you have a lot of NBA players coming out of Arizona," Edgar said. "It's a joy watching them play on TV and knowing you played a part in that program."

David Haskins is part of a Systems Analyst team with Sunset Home Loans, and he reflects upon the camaraderie of Arizona basketball as instrumental in the program's success, and his success in the work place.

"One of the things we had to do was establish whether we thought players would be good fits for the program," Haskins said. "Lute put us through that type of interview. It's worked pretty well. Some left because they weren't a good fit, but those who stayed have friendships that still remain."

Proof is in the pudding. Haskins lives two doors down from Williams.

And they talk often with Eddie Smith, an education consultant who 20 years ago was the man responsible for hitting the last-second shot that propelled Arizona to a miracle win at ASU, climbing from seven points down in regulation.

"I was fortunate, with the team's help, to get the last-second shot, so of course they want to credit me with something, but my teammates led us up to that point. Since it was my senior year, that was awesome. When we were down with 38 seconds left and Coach called the timeout, we all said 'we're going to win this thing.' There was never any yelling. He just gave us the game plan and said get it done. That's what we did. The ASU coach got kind of PO'd. I wonder if he wanted to quit because of that. At that point the UA said hey, we're leading things. Now when there's a comparison, they always do it to Arizona. It's like all the cars being compared to BMW."

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