Thurl Bailey was having lunch with a local media rep Wednesday at Sid’s Cafe at Westgate Las Vegas. He was the tall one. The seconds were ticking away in the 1983 NCAA championship game, Houston vs. North Carolina State, at The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
He is used to reliving those seconds at this time of the sports year, for some reason. He was about to pass the ball to Dereck Whittenburg, for the next-to-last shot, when the waitress interceded.
Thurl Bailey hesitated. Just like in that epic game against Houston.
“Club sandwich and a Mountain Dew,” he said.
Benny Anders, No. 32 on Houston, flailed a long arm, nearly stole Thurl Bailey’s pass from the left corner.
Whittenburg launched a prayer from Truth or Consequences. Bailey went to the left side of the rim, in pursuit of a rebound.
Lorenzo Charles went to the right side.
“Lo” Charles slammed the ball into the basket.
They won it. On the dunk.
That’s what Billy Packer said on national TV.
Thurl Bailey was the leading scorer and rebounder for Jim Valvano’s team. He scored 15 points and pulled down five rebounds against Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and Phi Slama Jama in the badlands of New Mexico.
He never gets tired of talking about it at this time of the year. At any time of the year.
“There’s always somebody who has seen (ESPN’s) “30 for 30” about our journey, or knows about it, or was there or watched it on TV,” said the gentle giant, whom people sometimes forget averaged 12.8 points in 928 NBA games in 13 seasons with the Jazz and Timberwolves (he’s still a broadcast analyst for the Jazz.)
“It’s a story for the ages when it comes to sports. You don’t get a story like that come around — the complete story, not just that we won the title, but the way we won it — the guy who was at the helm, Jimmy Valvano, his story. So there’s a lot of stories within that dream. I never get tired of talking about it.”
The following morning, Thurl Bailey helped former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman cut the ribbon before March Madness ensued at the famous Westgate sports book. He would count down the seconds at The Pit all over again, for anybody who asked.
The waitress arrived with his sandwich and Mountain Dew.
By then, the Wolfpack had won it again. On the dunk.
In the 2007 NCAA Tournament, sixth-seeded Vanderbilt upset No. 3 Washington State in double overtime at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California, on a hardwood floor ultimately purchased by the South Point for use in its rodeo/basketball arena.
When a certain musical superstar was in town to play T-Mobile Arena last Fourth of July, he shot baskets on the South Point court. He could not miss. After sinking 3-point shot after 3-point shot, he asked if the court was for sale.
I’m omitting details here, but that explains why South Point Arena has a new basketball court — and why the old one has been set up in a barn specially built for it in Nashville, Tennessee.
In the compound where Garth Brooks resides with his wife, Trisha Yearwood.
“The best 3-point shooters I’ve ever seen are Steph Curry, Freddie Banks and Garth Brooks,” South Point Arena director (and former UNLV quarterback) Steve Stallworth said.
When you have a basketball game at 6pm and a Garth Brooks concert at 8pm pic.twitter.com/YFvhDn4QTa— Juan Rodriguez (@Juan_Rodriguez) March 2, 2016
Four players from Southern Nevada cities were listed on men’s NCAA Tournament rosters, which might come as news to Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis and absolutely will come as news to Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith.
The four are Chase Jeter (Bishop Gorman), Duke; Zach Collins (Gorman), Gonzaga; PJ Savoy (Las Vegas High), Florida State; and Jake DesJardins, Arizona. All are Las Vegans with the exception of DesJardins, a Wildcats walk-on who prepped at Coronado High in Henderson.
In the distaff bracket, only two Las Vegans were accorded trips to the dancing floor: Oregon State’s Madison Washington and New Mexico State’s Tonishia Childress are Gorman grads.
Matt Williams, who played at UNR and supplies basketball courts for the massive AAU West Coast National Championships at the Las Vegas Convention Center, is the father of Connecticut star Gabby Williams, a former Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year from Sparks.
UNLV is ranked No. 2 by College Football News among schools with the worst combination of football and basketball programs. The Rebels are second worst, only to Rutgers.
Anybody who thinks UNLV is gaining admittance to a Power Five conference with a reputation like that any time soon had better invest in a new thinking cap. With a really big propeller on top.