Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats 25 years ago today: “Needle-in-haystack” walk-on Lee shines in Fiesta Bowl Classic win

EDITOR NOTE: will run a feature this basketball season highlighting what happened 25 years ago on that particular day commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Arizona Wildcats’ national championship. The next in the series is what occurred and what was written concerning the developments of Dec. 28, 1996, when ninth-ranked Arizona beat Robert Morris 118-54 in the opening round of the Fiesta Bowl Classic at McKale Center. The information gathered is through articles written by beat reporters Steve Rivera (Tucson Citizen) and Javier Morales (Arizona Daily Star), who now write for

You can access previous stories in this series by clicking on this link.

DATELINE: Dec. 28, 1996, McKale Center

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Robert Morris is not the only group wondering who that guy wearing No. 40 was for Arizona tonight.

The Colonials, who appeared to be in awe of the Wildcats from the start in a 118-54 loss, had never seen that player with the short brown hair play with Arizona on national television. But, then again, neither had the 13,965 fans in McKale Center.

“This is sort of what I’ve been dreaming about all of my life,” said walk-on Jason Lee, the newest member of the Wildcats. “I was a little bit nervous, but I realized I couldn’t stay tight the whole game.”

Jason Lee (Tucson Citizen photo)

Arizona’s coaching staff didn’t even know what to expect in a game situation from Lee, a guard who last played in a game at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., in the 1993-94 season.

They liked what they saw from the newcomer, who scored 15 points and contributed to the UA winning its 23rd straight game in the Fiesta Bowl Classic.

The ninth-ranked Wildcats (6-2), who were led by Bennett Davison’s 25 points on 12-of-14 shooting from the field against Robert Morris, play Pennsylvania in the championship.

Davison also had nine rebounds. Michael Dickerson contributed 20 points while making 11 of 13 shots from the free throw line.

The Quakers (3-2) defeated Florida 71-63 in the opening game. The Gators and Colonials meet in the consolation game.

“We knew he was a good shooter and that he works his butt off,” said UA assistant coach Jim Rosborough, who allowed Lee to walk on last year. “He wanted to go to a big-time program and he decided to come here (because of an acquaintance who attends Arizona).

“We already had a couple of walk-ons working out in our individual sessions, so Jason couldn’t join right away. He was very persistent. He kept coming around. I finally said, ‘Let’s take a look.'”

Lee, who was an All-North Coast Athletic Conference selection at Allegheny in 1993-94, toiled as a practice player this year with Arizona. He has yet to earn a scholarship, but because of his needed presence, he said, “That’s in the works.”

He was not eligible in the firset seven games during the fall semester because of NCAA transfer rules. He is a welcomed sight in light of Arizona using mostly a seven-player rotation.

“He’ll be an important guy for us off the bench,” UA coach Lute Olson said. “He’s a good shooter, but I was also impressed with the way he anticipated passes and got some steals. He played good, solid position defense.”

Lee, a 6-foot-4-inch and 205-pound senior, fouled out of the game against Robert Morris with 2:06 left. He left to applause after making 4 of 7 shots from 3-point range and grabbing six rebounds.

Of course, the performance came against Robert Morris (1-6), but Lee will savor his first Division I game.

“When you consider that in a program like this the whole idea is to recruit people to contribute, I’m excited,” Lee said. “I’m just in a needle-in-the-haystack kind of player, but I felt confident I could make the team and be a guy who could help.”

— Javier Morales

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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