I was born in Tucson in 1975. I was aware of the Arizona Wildcats growing up, but it wasn’t until the 1987-88 season that my passion for Arizona Basketball exploded, and my life changed forever.
As anyone living in Tucson, Arizona at that time can tell you, it was a very special year. The personalities on that team were so big, the play they exhibited so dominant, that when the Cats suffered those supremely rare losses at the hands of New Mexico, Stanford and eventually Oklahoma in the Final Four, my 13 year-old mind nearly broke. I just didn’t understand how it was even possible.
They were that good.
Here's a pic of me and the late great Sean "Wookie" Rooks. © 2017 Waterfoot Films
Leading the team was a Hall of Fame coach, who helped prepare 6 of its players for NBA careers. So far, those fellas have collected 10 championship rings in the Association. Not included in that list is one of the fastest men on the planet, Kenny Lofton, who himself ended up a 6-time MLB All Star.
That year, support for the Wildcats in Tucson reached a whole new level of crazy. Sure, the Cats enjoyed a good following at various times before that season, but add in being ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time ever, charging all the way to a Final Four, and even having your own rap video, and things can get a little bit berserk.
The fearless leader of the Red Army tailgating crew Chaz Elsten once told me a story. It was the baseball season after the ‘88 team made its mark, and in Chaz’s Little League, teams got to choose their own names. 9 out of the 10 teams in Chaz’s league proudly named themselves the Wildcats.
In Tucson, Arizona, that obsessive passion for Arizona Basketball continues to this day. As author and sports writer Anthony Gimino told us, “It’s kind of like SEC football in the South. You talk about it 365 days a year.”
The ‘88 team’s supremacy on the hardwood put Tucson on the map, and set soaring standards that Arizona would be held to, and hold itself to, for the next 3 decades. Future teams added speed to momentum the ‘88 team started, and made Arizona into one of the most successful college basketball programs of the last 30 years.
I never wanted that season to end. That’s one reason I decided to make this film, to relive those thrilling moments again and again. The memories are still so fresh in my mind, and no matter how great my Wildcats are year after year, there will never be anything quite as special as the first time.
When I started the journey of making this film in 2008, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, or that it would take me so many years to complete. I was inspired early on by my little brother and co-director Sean. Our love of movies has always been a big part of our lives, and I watched carefully as he was living out his dream and going to film school.
Me and my bro on our way back from a big interview trip. © 2017 Waterfoot Films
Another inspiration came in the form of a documentary called The Ostrich Testimonies by Jonathan VanBallenberghe. I was deeply moved by his beautiful film about the Ostrich farm between Tucson and Phoenix.
I thought, “If these two gentlemen with Tucson ties can be filmmakers, why can’t I?” I had a journalism degree from the University of Arizona, but I wasn’t using it. I thought film would be a good way to channel that training. But what did I want to make a film about? It didn’t take long at all for me to realize, I wanted to tell the magical story of the 1988 team.
It’s been nine years since that moment, and we are so close! My brother and I have poured in countless hours of research, travel, filming interviews, and promotion to make this dream a reality, but couldn’t have done any of it without the support of you hundreds of people who have helped us along the way. Because of what we have accomplished together with you, we are on track to release the film late this year.
When we interviewed Kevin O’Neill and asked him what made the 1987-88 team so special, he had this to share:
“Everything was fun. Practice was fun, team meals were fun, the bus ride, everything was fun."
Former Arizona Assistant Coach Kevin O'Neill sitting for our cameras. © 2017 Waterfoot Films
With these blogs we hope to show you what we think he meant by that. We will be going through the entire 1987-88 season week by week, plus sharing some fun entries about the making of the film, and what it was like to talk to our heroes during these past four years.
If all goes to plan the film will be completed in time for the start of the 30th anniversary season of our favorite Arizona team of all time.
Thanks again for everything you do for ’88.
November will be here before you know it.
- Brad Malone