The 1997 University of Arizona national championship basketball team drew its talent from many places -- Seattle, New Orleans, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Grand Rapids, Iowa, among them. The Tucson representative was John Ash, a guard from Salpointe Catholic High School.
"I was a bench player, if you could even call me that," Ash said with a laugh, "but it was very exciting and I enjoyed my experience at UA. Who wouldn't? Going to practice every day with a coach like Lute Olson and the best college players in the country.
"It was pretty unbelievable."
Ash, now in commercial real estate now with the C.B. Richard Ellis firm, also owns a share in a mortgage company, HLC Tucson. He is single.
He will join his old Wildcat teammates on Saturday, Aug . 18 at a dinner honoring the '97 national champions. It will be held in the Grand Ballroom of the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, 3800 East Sunrise Drive. Tickets are $175 per person or $2,000 for a table for ten. For more information, call 621-7491.
Even though the Cats finished fifth in the Pacific-10 Conference and were seeded No. 4, Ash said he felt the team would compete well in the NCAA Tournament. "The atmosphere in the Pac-10 that year was very competitive," he said. "There were some really good teams. We knew we could beat the best. Finishing fifth in or league was no disgrace at all."
There wasn't a senior among the starting five, which, Ash said, gave the Wildcats a little special swagger. "We were so young, even our veteran leadership, that we had a kind of innocence," he said. "And when we lost during the season it didn't faze us, as far as coming out strong in the next game. We never got into a slump mentally."
Like a lot of his teammates, Ash said the South Alabama game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, at the Pyramid in Memphis, was the most difficult.
"That was one miserable game," Ash said. "Maybe halfway through the second half, we started playing well. But until then I just remember the South Alabama game as being grounds for depression. As a kid from Tucson, I was aware of the first-round anxiety of Wildcat fans. I was a big Steve Kerr fan and when Oklahoma beat the Cats that year (1988) at the Final Four, I was devastated. And I suffered with the whole city through a couple of first-round knockouts.
"So when we played so horribly against South Alabama, I remember thinking, 'Ohmigod! I can't believe this is going to happen.'"
With seven minutes left, the Wildcats trailed South Alabama by 10 points, but rallied to win, 65-57.
"After that, it was off to the races for us," Ash said. "There was no holding us back. We played some super-tough teams in that tournament but no game was more difficult than South Alabama."
John tries to attend at lest one Arizona game a year. "The rest of the time, I'm glued to the TV rooting for the Cats," he said.
"I hope all the guys show up for the reunion dinner. I'm really looking forward to it. That was a special team."