By the time Miles enrolled at Arizona in August 1994, Charisse had that weird last name. At Davis's birthday party one of her friends had slipped Strawberry her phone number. Strawberry, who has come back from his own adversity, with bouts of domestic and substance abuse, would help buck up his brother-in-law, especially last December when things looked darkest. In a phone call Strawberry helped convince Miles of what Olson already knew: that Arizona absolutely needed Miles to go before they'd sweep.
By March the wide-eyed young fan in Simon existed alongside a flinty-eyed young man. The fan, who reminded his teammates on the eve of the championship game that they had a chance not merely to win Arizona's first national championship but also to complete a sweep of college basketball's three winningest programs (Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky), could recite the scripts from those late-night cable specials on old Final Fours; the man provided highlights for the one that would be made in 1997. Going "up and under, every time" is how he recalls the title game against Kentucky, in which he scored 30 points. "I don't remember a team biting any easier for a pump fake all year."
Suddenly he was in a downtown Indianapolis Steak 'n' Shake at four o'clock in the morning, with everyone in the place serenading him with the chant of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" "Basically," says Simon, "I went from the bottom to the top"—from down around those Nikes to up near those Oakleys—"in a five-month span."
If so much can come together so quickly, however, it can unravel just as fast. Simon has already endured a rough first semester this year. In a six-part investigation of the NCAA, The Kansas City Star reported that Arizona made a series of exceptions to its academic guidelines to keep Simon eligible and that Simon has been on academic probation for virtually his entire college career. A university spokesman nonetheless says the matter was thoroughly investigated, and the school found that Simon had not received any preferential treatment.
And even as the Wildcats have their top eight players returning this season, most soothsayers are predicting that they won't repeat as champions. It has become almost axiomatic in college hoops that defending champs wind up being beaten by the psychological burden of repeating. "It's not just that everyone's gunning for you," says former UCLA guard Cameron Dollar, who piloted the Bruins to a title in 1995 only to be shown the tournament door in the first round the next season. "It's that you get so caught up in where you've been. You've got to understand, the only way you can stay on top is to forget you've ever been there."
Dollar seems to be articulating the opposite of philosopher George Santayana's maxim that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it: Defending champs who do remember the past are condemned not to repeat it.
Simon won't have any problem forgetting most of last season. The question is whether he will remember the perils of life on the edge—whether he has learned that a lightning March march, like holing a 40-foot chip from the rough, isn't something you can depend on.