Editors note: Jason Terry and the rest of the 1997 National Championship team will be in attendance at the Red-Blue Game in McKale Center on Friday for the 20th anniversary celebration of Arizona basketball’s lone title.
Jason Terry wasn’t always the sweet shooting guard we’re accustomed to watching. Early on, Terry was just another guy coming off the bench during his freshman season at Arizona, but boy did things change during his sophomore campaign.
Arizona came in to the 1997 season with lofty expectations, but early on it had one big question mark. Miles Simon, Arizona’s returning lead scorer, was academically ineligible for the first semester. This meant that head coach Lute Olson had to call on someone to step up. Olson tapped the sophomore Terry, and with this simple choice a championship run began.
Terry was not a popular choice either, he was the only choice. Terry averaged a meager 3.1 points per game and played less than 10 minutes a contest during his freshman season.
Early season matchups against the North Carolina Tar Heels and New Mexico Lobos saw Terry struggle, especially shooting the ball going 5-22 over the course of the two games. Then came the Utah Utes.
Terry scorched the Utes, the No. 3 team in the nation at the time, for 19 points and three assists. He quickly evolved in to one of the best guards in the Pac-10 Conference over the course of that winter.
When the semester turned and Simon was ready to return to the lineup, Olson had a tough decision in front of him. Return Simon to the starting lineup or keep the boat sailing with Terry as his two-guard. Olson opted to bring Simon off the bench for his first few games, but it was Terry who told Olson what had to be done.
“Jason Terry came to see me and said, ‘Coach, we’ve got to get Miles back in the starting lineup,'" said Olson during a radio interview last year.
Well, who was it going to be, asked Olson. So begins the legacy of Terry.
“He said, ‘Coach, put me on the bench. I’ll be the sixth man,'" Olson said. “I think he knew he was going to be in the game for the last 10 minutes anyway. He wouldn’t start the game but he would finish the game all the time.”
Terry finished the season coming off the bench and became one of the top sixth men in the country. He finished the season averaging 10.6 points and 4.4 assists a game.
His biggest contribution in the NCAA tournament came in the Elite Eight matchup against the Providence Friars. Star guard Michael Dickerson fouled out of the game, an overtime affair, leaving a scoring void in Arizona’s backcourt. Terry didn’t miss a beat finishing the game with 11 points and five assists off the bench helping send the Wildcats to the Final Four.
Terry finished out his junior and senior seasons at Arizona. As a senior, he averaged 21.9 points and 5.5 assists per game in a campaign that ended with him being named the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 1999, as well as a consensus first-team All-American. He was selected 10th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA draft following his senior year, and is entering his 17th season in the league and his first with the Milwaukee Bucks this season.
As for Terry’s final legacy, no one can put it better than Olson himself.
“There were great young men who played during the time that I was here, none better I think than Jason Terry,” Olson said.
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Video courtesy of Arizona Athletics via Youtube.