Arizona Basketball

1996-97 championship revisited: Members of historic Arizona Wildcats team gather in Vegas for AAU tournaments

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Mike Bibby (in black sitting at end of the bench) coaches his Team Bibby team at Findlay Prep, where a banner honoring Nick Johnson hangs in the background (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Mike Bibby (in black sitting at end of the bench) coaches his Team Bibby team at Findlay Prep, where a banner honoring Nick Johnson hangs in the background (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

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LAS VEGAS — Jessie Evans wore a sizable silver ring last night commemorating Arizona’s 1994 Final Four appearance, which begged the question: Where is his 1997 NCAA championship ring earned as an assistant coach with the Wildcats?

“I wear the ring we lost in the Final Four in 1994 (with Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves to Arkansas) all of the time, never the championship ring,” Evans said in his usual gregarious manner. “I can’t figure that out … why do I wear this one all of the time?”

He laughed out loud. I asked him if it is a motivational ploy to push him to the heights of the 1997 title? Does he have the 1997 ring under lock and key?

“I have it in a safe place,” Evans said. “I wear it at a big-game event. If I’m doing a speech, I’ll wear it.”

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After coaching since 1976, Jessie Evans may work next as an NBA scout

After coaching since 1976, Jessie Evans may work next as an NBA scout

Evans, retired for now from coaching at 64, was making the rounds at various AAU events in Las Vegas last night. Aside from trying to land a scouting position with Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors and other NBA teams, Evans is contemplating working as a referee consultant or possibly returning to coaching.

One of Evans’ stops late last night was visiting Mike Bibby, who coached his Team Bibby AAU group at the Henderson International School. Bibby, in his seventh year as a coach/organizer of Team Bibby, is not certain if he will follow Evans’ career path and become a coach.

“Maybe later,” he said. “I’m enjoying time with my kids right now. Maybe when all of my kids are out of the house, I might get a job with Jessie somewhere.”

He looked at Evans and they shared a laugh.

“If we get a shooter like him (Bibby), we’ll be all right,” Evans said.

The exchange reminded me of the good times experienced by the 1996-97 title team coached by Hall of Famer Lute Olson. Believe it or not, we are only seven years from the 25th anniversary of that historic group that remains the only team to beat three No. 1 seeds en route to the title. That will be a grand celebration in Tucson. A mini reunion of sorts took place this weekend in Las Vegas.


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Other than Evans and Bibby, former assistant Phil Johnson and players Miles Simon (the 1997 Final Four MVP), Jason Terry and Josh Pastner were here.

Johnson scouted as a Texas-El Paso assistant. Simon coached the California Supreme AAU team here. Pastner, the head coach at Memphis, made the rounds to be seen and watch young talent. Terry visited the city with his family.

I joked with Evans that he looks the same as he did 18 years ago when the Wildcats made their magical run.

“Shoot, maybe 10 pounds ago,” he said rubbing his belly. “I can’t play any more ball. I was just talking to Lute the other day, and I told him, ‘Damn, I just miss the things that we used to do.'”

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Bibby, 36, is no longer in the NBA, two years removed, but he looks in playing shape. The 14-year NBA veteran is content staying close to his wife Darcy Watkins, his high school sweetheart, in Phoenix with their four children rather than travel as a coach and be away from home. He is an assistant coach at his alma mater Phoenix Shadow Mountain, where he coaches his son Mike Bibby Jr., who will be a junior this school year.

Bibby grew up without his father Henry Bibby around the house because the elder Bibby left his family to pursue a coaching career. Their non-existent relationship became well-known when Mike Bibby played with the Wildcats and Henry Bibby coached USC at the same time in the Pac-10.

Mike Bibby is preventing that from happening with his family as he adjusts to life after playing basketball. He is grooming his son, the only boy among his four children, to be successful on and off the court.

Daughters of Mike Bibby and Miles Simon are as close as there dads were with Arizona, as displayed by Simon on his Twitter accout

Daughters of Mike Bibby and Miles Simon are as close as there dads were with Arizona, as displayed by Simon on his Twitter accout

“He’s a strong-minded, tough kid who plays hard, that’s the main thing,” Bibby said of his son, who is not playing this summer because of a torn meniscus. “He’s good in the class room. He’ll be something.”

Bibby’s son, who led Shadow Mountain to a state title last season as a point guard, has interest from West coast schools and reportedly has received a scholarship offer from USC. Pastner has also extended a scholarship offer at Memphis.

Arizona, UCLA and UNLV have all expressed interest.

“After three more months of rehab, he’ll come back strong,” said Bibby Sr., who never had to endure such an injury.

That was another intriguing part of that 1996-97 team — all of the players remained healthy and their bond strengthened as the postseason progressed.

“Until the kid (Brandon Ashley) got hurt this year, I thought they were the team to beat,” Evans said about Sean Miller’s team last season. “They’re going to be in the hunt every year. Tucson will always be a special place.”

Bibby is thankful for the Arizona experience and the lasting friendships that evolved from his two years in Tucson in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

“I talk to Jason Terry some times,” he said. “Miles’ daughter was here with mine. They are like best friends. I talk to Michael Dickerson. I talked to Coach Olson when I went out there and took the kids to a practice.”

Evans was a head coach for 11 years after leaving Arizona following the 1996-97 season. He compiled a 177-138 record at Louisiana-Lafayette and San Francisco. He fulfilled a two-year promise to be an assistant at Southeast Missouri last season.

He said he is relocating to Las Vegas to be at the center of West coast basketball activity, be it scouting, consulting with referees or coaching. Throughout his odyssey away from Tucson, he has remained loyal to Arizona. His nine-year stint in Tucson (1988-97) as an Olson assistant remains his longest tenure in his eight college coaching stops as an assistant or head coach from 1976 to this year.

“Once a Cat. always a Cat … you better believe it,” Evans said. “Plus, my daughter (Jayda Evans, a Seattle Times sportswriter and Arizona graduate) won’t let me pull for anyone else. There’s no one else to pull for.

“Sean’s doing a great job. I follow them and pull for them all of the time.”

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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