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20070815 08-15-2007 Classic Harris
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 08/15/2007
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The tallest chef in Maricopa County helped set the table for the greatest basketball victory in University of Arizona history.

Donnell Harris, a graduate of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, is now a personal chef.

He was a 6-foot-11 forward-center at Arizona, and as a senior in 1996-97, he hit two free-throws at a crucial point in the game to help the Arizona Wildcats defeat the Kentucky Wildcats in overtime to win the NCAA Championship at Indianapolis.

Harris is anxious to attend the Lute Olson All-Star Classic dinner honoring the '97 national champions.

It will be held on Saturday, Aug. 18, in the grand ballroom of the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. Tickets ($175 per person, $2,000 for reserved table for 10) can be obtained by calling (520) 621-7491.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing my teammates," said Harris. "It will be great.

Everybody's gone their own way now, but we'll always be that team -- one big happy family."

Harris roomed that season first with Jason Terry, now a big NBA star with the Dallas Mavericks, then with Bennett Davison.

During the national championship game against Kentucky, Harris said "all I could think of was, 'This is the greatest thing in the world

-- it's what I've worked for every day of my life.' And I did, I worked hard to make it happen. It was one of the greatest feelings in the world to be out there, playing for a national championship for Arizona."

The underdog Wildcats had to upset three No. 1 seeds in that tournament, something never done before or since. They beat, in order, Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky.

"It wasn't supposed to happen," Harris said, "but we made it happen. It was too good to be true."

Other than the Kentucky game, Harris said he thought the toughest game the team played was against Providence, in the Regionals at Birmingham, Ala.

"They were really good," he said. "Besides, they had God on their side." He referred to Providence's outstanding floor leader, God Shamgod.

Coach Lute Olson's Cats finished fifth in the Pacific-10 Conference that season and were underdogs all through the NCAA Tournament.

But Harris felt, all along, that UofA could win it all.

"From the very beginning in our first scrimmage on that court at McKale Center, I knew we were good enough," he said. "I told my mother that. Later on, when we were struggling during the season, Mom said, 'Don't you remember what you told me? You should win it all.'"

Harris said that after the first game of the season, he felt there was something special about the '96-97 Wildcats. "We had a group of guys who really wanted it," he said.

"Coach 'O' loves to have people do exactly what they're told, but we kinda did what we wanted at times. Coach O sensed that that was good, so he let us do it, he gave us some freedom.

"We were able to relax and do what we knew we could do. I think that's why we were so strong at the finish and that's why we won it all.

We didn't force anything, we just played our game to the best of our abilities."

In the famous victory celebration video and photographs, Bennett Davison went over to Coach Olson and messed up his famous silvery hair.

"That was just great," Harris said. "We all wanted to see that."

Donnell is 31 now, and single. He said his favorite work-related thing to do these days is "anything on the grill. . .I love to barbecue."

He doesn't play basketball anymore, though. "I had to stop," he said. "I had three knee surgeries. I tried to play pro. I went overseas and played in Germany, in Paris and in Spain. But eventually the knees gave out."

So he went to chef's school and "dishes off" these days in a different kind of success story.

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