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Richard Jefferson recounts wild recruiting visit to Arizona with Luke Walton

Jefferson, Walton, Mike Bibby, and Miles Simon had quite the time

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s 1997 and the Arizona Wildcats have two big-time recruits on campus.

There’s Richard Jefferson, a 6-foot-7 athletic forward from Phoenix, and Luke Walton, a 6-foot-8 skilled forward from San Diego.

Then-UA head coach Lute Olson was under the impression that Arizona could land one of them, but not both. They played the same position, after all.

But thanks to a wild recruiting visit, which was hosted by 1997 National Champions Mike Bibby and Miles Simon, the Wildcats managed to snag both.

Jefferson recounted how it all happened Monday at the CATSYS. Walton apparently wasn’t all there during his visit.

“Luke is not sober on his visit and he’s like ‘yo, we should both go to Arizona. We should both go to Arizona’,” Jefferson said. “And I was like ‘hey kid, you know we play the exact same position, right?’”

“Yeah, yeah that’s fine,” said Walton, who was slurring his words, per Jefferson.

“So I was like all right, if you do it, I do it,” Jefferson said. “He’s like ‘all right no problem.’ This was him not sober.”

Jefferson continued, “He decided to commit to Lute Olson on like an 8 a.m. flight back to San Diego. So I’m meeting with my parents and this was our first visit and every athlete knows they tell you two things: don’t recruit on your visit and two, don’t commit on our visit.

“So I hear Lute Olson say ‘we’re so excited, we have Luke Walton coming here.’ And I’m like ‘holy s—t, this guy really did that.’ So I’m sitting there eating and I tell Coach Olson, ‘Coach I’ve seen enough, I would like to come here also.’

“He even stopped in his tracks. He was like, ‘really, so we can announce that?’ I’m like ‘yeah, why not? UCLA, screw ‘em. ASU, screw ‘em. We don’t need to go to any of those schools’.”

And that was that. Walton and Jefferson would both go onto to star at Arizona and later in the NBA. That they played the same position wasn’t a hindrance after all.

And here’s another crazy story from that same visit.

“Richard and Luke Walton come on their recruiting visit, and I was their host,” Simon said. “Richard is 17 years old and Mike Bibby takes him to get a tattoo on his recruiting trip.

“It was weird,” Jefferson said. “The guy didn’t wear gloves, he had a van. When Mike finished, he was like ‘hop on in here’ and I was like, ‘wait do we change the needle?’”

“No, no, same ink,” Bibby said.

So Jefferson got an ‘RJ’ tattoo on his left shoulder. 20 years later, it’s still there.

“I might have hid it from my parents the entire time,” Jefferson joked.