Blast From the Past: Part I -- Thurl Bailey

In Part I of our series with basketball great Thurl Bailey, the former Wolfpacker discusses his experiences at N.C. State and the memories which stood out most to him. <P>

Thurl agreed to take time out of his busy schedule and answer some questions from the members of StateFans, and his interview will be the first in our "Blast From the Past" series.

Brief Thurl Bailey Bio: Thurl averaged 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds during his career at N.C. State, including 16.7 points and 7.7 rebounds as a senior when he led the Wolfpack to the 1983 National Championship. Bailey went on to be a first round selection of the Utah Jazz in the 1983 NBA Draft, the #7 selection overall.

He played 13 seasons in the NBA with the Jazz (10) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (3), averaging 13.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. Thurl retired as one of the most respected players in the NBA, earning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award for the '88-'89 season.

Bailey now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife, Sindi, and their two children. He is now a motivational speaker for youth groups across the country. In addition to professional speaking, Thurl is a broadcast analyst for the Utah Jazz and the University of Utah, an actor, and an award winning singer/song writer.


StateFans: Would you talk about what kind of Coach Jimmy V was during practice and do any of his halftime speeches still stick out to you?

Thurl Bailey: "They all stand out actually. As most fans know, Jimmy was a character so really all of his speeches were memorable.

His practices were a little different than most. We wouldn't go two hours every practice... it just depended on how we performed. We would work on specific things, and I think he had teams that he could put a lot of trust into (especially the upperclassmen). He'd have certain areas we'd work on in the scouting reports, but once we got those accomplished practices would be fun.

He was really detailed regarding all of our opponents. We would have to know our specific matchups and their strengths/weaknesses. Once we were taught those it was our job as the players to go out and expose those weaknesses."

SF: If Jimmy V was put here to make an impact on your life, what quality do you have after spending those four years of your life with him?

Bailey: "I think sometimes when we run into a roadblock we want to give up on things, but Jimmy made sure that we would always believe, even the years before the national championship. So, I think one of the biggest things he taught me, and it may sound like a cliche, is that you never, ever give up. If you want to get to the top of the mountain it's going to take a lot of hard work but you can get there."

SF: Who did the best imitation of Coach V, Whittenburg or Lowe?

Bailey: "[Laughing] Man that's a tough one... I think I'd have to give that to Dereck. He was the clown of the team. He was the guy who kept us up so you couldn't help but laugh at him. That would definitely have to to go to Dereck."

SF: Outside of basketball, what memory of NC State comes to mind as one of great joy or fondness for you?

Bailey: "It's hard to pull out a single memory because those four years were so enjoyable. It was really a time of growth for me... from a boy to a man. I made mistakes and learned from them and got stronger from them.

One place I'll always remember is Hillsborough Street... it was always our favorite. We used to go down to Two Guys Pizza all the time... in fact I worked there a couple of summers as a waiter. I remember during the championship. When we won, Hillsborough was the place to be. It wasn't the Brickyard... it was down along Hillsborough Street."

SF: Excluding the 1983 NCAA Tournament run, what game in your college career was most memorable to you?

Bailey: "We had a game against Carolina that same year. I don't think I ever won at North Carolina, but whenever you beat Carolina it was something. I remember the game we had against North Carolina my senior year at Reynolds. There was one particular play when me and Sidney Lowe were coming down on a fast break, and Sam Perkins was there for Carolina on defense. Sidney knew I was behind him and never looked back. He bounced the ball between his legs to me, and I slammed it over Sam Perkins. We beat Carolina pretty good that night and Michael Jordan was a part of that Carolina team. Whenever you beat Carolina it was an exciting event. There were many great games that went on during my career but beating Carolina is always a high point for an NC State player."

SF: Do you stay in contact with any other members of the 1983 championship team and if so, who?

Bailey: "I wish I was in contact with all of them, but with how our lives go it's hard. I probably see Sidney [Lowe] more than I see the others because he's still in the NBA as an assistant at Minnesota, and I'm doing the TV commentary with the Jazz. Alvin Battle, who I've had conversations with after our reunion, is another.

What I'd like to do is find a way for us to get together once a year because that was a very meaningful time in all our lives. Whether it's out west or in North Carolina, I think it's something that we need to do because we were a part of something huge. We just can't let that die regardless of how busy our schedules are."

SF: Who personally recruited you to NC State and what were some of the factors which caused you to sign with NC State?

Bailey: "That's an interesting question because I felt like I was recruited to NC State well before my high school days. When I was a young teenager I won a raffle prize that was a free basketball camp at NC State. I went down to the camp, and Coach Eddie Biedenbach was an assistant of Norm Sloan's. I was by no means the best player at this camp, but for some reason he took a liking to me and kept in touch as I matured and went on to high school to play basketball. I remember he used to send me letters to find out how I was doing, and I appreciated that, especially once recruiting had begun.

When I really became a good player I noticed the differences in recruiting... seeing what some of these coaches were doing to get me to their school. NC State and Coach Biedenbach just stayed in the forefront of my mind because they were always concerned about how I was doing in school and things like that. That's really one of the main reasons I was attracted to NC State, although before I decided Coach Biedenbach had taken the head job at Davidson College. That's why they were one of my final four schools."

SF: What teams made up your final list of schools?

Bailey: "The last four schools that I visited were State, Davidson, Maryland with Lefty Driesell, and Georgetown with John Thompson. Davidson was there because of my previous relationship with Coach Biedenbach."

SF: Are you able to keep up with NC State much and what is your evaluation of the program at it's current status?

Bailey: "With my schedule I'm unable to keep up as much as I would like, but I think Coach Sendek has done an awesome job with the program. Here's a guy who a few years ago was really on the bubble and he's now turned the program around and has it back to where it should be. He's a great person and he's done a fantastic job of getting those kids to buy into his system. That's really what it's all about.

I spent four years at NC State and I've seen where the program has been, where it's gone, and where it has now come back to. The alumni... those people are die-hard State fans and that's the way it should be, win or lose.

Because of the pro game I don't get as much time to watch, but I'll always pick up the newspaper to see how the Wolfpack's doing."

SF: In the championship game against Houston in '83, what went through your mind when you made the pass to Whittenburg at the top of the key, and it looked like the pass would be stolen?

Bailey: "[Laughing] Oh no, I've lost the game for us! I haven't told many people this, but I hadn't scored a point in the second half. I wasn't stupid, and I knew that Dereck and Sidney had carried us in the second half. I knew that the ball had to be in their hands. I really wanted the ball in Dereck's hands... I was confident that he needed the ball because he was our clutch player. He took the shot, which he always calls a pass, but we know what it was.

When I look at it now that was the way it was suppose to have happened. Maybe another inch and Bennie Anders could have stolen the ball, but it didn't happen that way. You just can't write a better story than that entire run through the tournament."

SF: That actually leads into our next question. Was there a time during that season when the team felt they just wasn't going to lose again?

Bailey: "That answer may be different for other players, but I think how we won those games was the most amazing aspect. First of all we had a great coach who took chances. He knew the game and knew the opposing players. He dared them to make free throws when it counted and they just couldn't do it. But, we had to do our part. We had to play as a team, rely on each other, and play our roles... don't do something you can't do.

In the end we had to have something else on our side, and I believe we had luck and God on our side. People will say, 'I don't know about all of that,' but I just think there was something there which couldn't be explained.

Look at the Vegas game when Sidney Green badmouthed me to the press before the game. He basically said, 'Bailey never showed me anything,' and that didn't bother me, but I scored the winning basket over him. How we had to overcome adversity when Dereck broke his foot against Virginia. It gave other guys like Ernie Meyers and Lorenzo Charles the opportunity to step up.

How we got letters from a lady who had a husband that was on a respirator, and she's thinking about pulling the plug. In the hospital she has our games on for him. She didn't follow basketball, but she ended up following us and would later say that those games gave her the hope to believe that her husband could come out of the coma that he was in.

That's more than basketball... that's life. That's why I think we had more than just a little bit of luck on our side during that national title run."


Stay tuned tomorrow for Part II of our "Blast From the Past" interview with ex-NC State great Thurl Bailey.

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