"We lost some tough games that year but we never lost our confidence," said A.J. Bramlett, who, as a 6-foot-11 sophomore was instrumental in Arizona's drive to the 1997 NCAA basketball championship.
Always intelligent, unselfish and the quintessential team-player, Bramlett, now 30, continues with his basketball career. He led his Riga team to the Latvian Basketball League championship last season and was named Center of the Year.
Latvia is located in northern Europe and shares land borders with Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south, as well as both Russia and Belarus to the east. It is separated from Sweden in the west by the Baltic Sea.
Bramlett and his wife Kirsty live in Albuquerque. They have a son, Daylen, who will be two years old on Oct. 20. A.J. and Kirsty dated while attending La Cueva High School in Albuquerque. She went to the University of Southern California.
"I'll be there and I'm looking forward to it," Bramlett said of the Lute Olson All-Star Classic dinner honoring the 1997 national champions. The dinner will be held in the Grand Ballroom of the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, 3800 East Sunrise Drive.
Tickets are available at $175 per person or $2,000 for a table for ten. For information, call 621-7491.
Looking back to that '97 team, which finished fifth in the Pacific-10 Conference and was a mere No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Bramlett said, "The good thing about us was (that) we were battle-tested. We didn't have an easy game all year and we didn't have an easy game in the tournament.
"But the key was we had no fear. We went up against Kansas, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, believing we could win when, I'm sure, very few people across the country agreed."
At the NCAA Regional in Birmingham, the Wildcats took down the proud Jayhawks, 85-82. It was one of the bitterest defeats in Kansas's long and distinguished basketball history. The Jayhawks bowed out with a 35-4 record. Arizona, after it's national championship win over Kentucky, finished the year with a 25-9 mark.
Bramlett said that other than the overtime thriller against Kentucky for the national title, there were three "toughest" games for Arizona. Ironically, none was against a No.1 seed. The Wildcats defeated three No. 1 seeds in the tournament, a feat never accomplished before or sense.
"I think our first two games, South Alabama and College of Charleston, plus the Providence game were our toughest," Bramlett said.
"Against Kentucky, I just remember we were not going to lose -- we really believed that -- and we kept at it. Even when they tied it up and took us to overtime, we could have gotten 'down' psychologically, but we didn't."
A. J. will return to the same team in Latvia for the upcoming season. It will be his second year with the Riga team. He has also competed for the Cajason, Plus Pujol and Grupo Capital teams from Spain.