Simon still helping the Cats win

This isn't where he saw himself when he left the University. He was a Final Four MVP and an NBA second round draft pick. He was a part of two of the best teams in school history, but is now trying to help his Alma Mater win their second NCAA title. Miles Simon is not in the NBA or even playing in Europe, one of the best players to wear the uniform is a practice player with the Wildcats.

Simon blew out his knee back in May and is now just getting cleared to play. He tore the ACL, MCL and his meniscus and the rehab has been tough.

"There's nothing I didn't tear," Simon noted. "Got them all in one shot." He came back to Tucson to work on his degree and to take advantage of the great rehab facilities. His injury has a 6-8 month recovery time and he got back on the court in exactly seven months. Simon was cleared to play last week, but was asked by his surgeon to take a final month to test it out and make sure it is fine before he goes off to further his playing career.

For now he's practicing with the Wildcats, mimicking the opponent's best scorer with the scout team. Last week he was Luke Jackson and he likes the fact that the first time in an Olson practice he's been asked to take a lot of shots.

"It's fun for me," Simon confessed. "They are helping me out more than anything. I can get back in shape and get used to playing ball again. It's been fun practicing with them."

As the Wildcats try to make a splash come March, one has to wonder if the current players are drawing on Simon's experience. It's one thing to have a great resource available, but do the young players take advantage of it?

"A few of them have," Simon said. "They want to win it this year and they've asked me what it's like. They realize that it is a special event and a special season they can have here."

Simon is still the most recognizable of the players off the '97 team. Replays of him hugging the basketball and winking on the foul line are still run by CBS every March. He did not have the pro career that many thought he might have, but that doesn't keep the Old Pueblo from embracing him.

Simon is doing radio ads for a local cell phone company and is still bugged during games for autographs. Tucson has not forgotten Simon and he appreciates the love he is shown.

"It's fun, I enjoy being back here," Simon said. "The great thing about the fans is they never forget here and they always love the former players here and embrace them. It's great to come back and see the former players like Reggie Geary and Corey Williams and all those guys who move back to Tucson."

Although he talks to many of his former teammates, he does speak to many of the guys off the championship team. Most of the players on that team are still playing professionally all over the world.

"Besides John (Ash), Justin (Wessel) and Josh (Pastner), the guys who are still here, I haven't talked to many of them other than in the summer time," Simon said. "They are busy with their seasons, families and careers and I'm busy here."

Many have noted that Lute Olson has changed a bit in recent years. He seems to be a little more lighthearted and open. Simon sees it to some extent, but not in terms of game preparation and practice intensity. "He's kind of stayed the same," Simon said. "He's still a great teacher, a great X's and O's man. He's real big on the fundamentals still."

That doesn't mean everything is still the same.

"He's funnier now," Simon pointed out. "He's a big time comedian, especially during practice when he's getting on the guys and giving them little side jabs every once in awhile. Coach Olson is a caring coach who just loves his players. He cares about his players, as well as the former players and is interested in their well-being."

Although Olson has not changed, the team has. At least in terms of style of play. Simon's teams were the highest scoring in school history, but they did it in different ways. The 97 and 98 teams ran, but got a lot of their points off of screens and set plays. This team is actually more athletic and can do things another way.

"I've noticed that the guys on this team have more one-on-one ability," Simon explained. "I see a little bit more of one-on-one going on in games, more pick and rolls. With my teams here we didn't run many pick and rolls. I think he adapts to the teams he has. Basically he has four perimeter guys out there. It's tough to go three out, two in and run a lot of screens, you just have to take advantage of the fact that these guys are so good one-on-one and let them break guys down off the dribble."

Simon is preparing to head off to Europe again. Sometime in the next three or four weeks he will head back overseas and continue a career that has been good, but has lacked a long stint in the NBA. He has played in Orlando, Israel, Italy and the CBA and has been the final cut on two NBA teams' roster. He has made good money, but lacked the exposure of playing in the NBA. One might think that Simon has a burning desire to fill that void, but that isn't entirely the case.

"I'll play NBA Summer League this summer for sure and take it from there," Simon said. "I don't worry so much about the NBA anymore. It's tough. If I play in Europe, I love it over there. I played in Italy and it's one of my favorite places, the money is good, a lot better than Bismarck."

Simon realizes that his playing career is nearing an end. Despite a career that was plagued with some academic difficulties, Simon is close to getting his degree. He is five or six classes away from a Family Studies degree and has a plan for when he can no longer play.

"I plan to coach eventually, that's why I'm finishing up," Simon explained. "If I don't get my degree this summer I'll get it in 2005."

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