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When the NBA Finals begin Wednesday in Phoenix, not only will it mark the first time Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley will be in the same final series, it will also mark the first time that both an ex-Ute and an ex-Cougar will be involved at the same time.

Former University of Utah and Brigham Young University basketball players have played in a number of NBA Finals, but with Danny Ainge, who played at BYU from 1977 through 1981, and Tom Chambers, who played at Utah during the same seasons, both on the roster of the Phoenix Suns, it marks the first time both Utah schools will be in the same Finals.U. of U. All-American Arnie Ferrin was the first Utah collegian to play in the NBA Finals when he was with the world champion Minneapolis Lakers in both 1949 and 1950. Until Chambers, Ferrin was the only Ute graduate to play in the title series. Three former Cougars have played in the Finals. Mel Hutchins played for the Ft. Wayne Pistons in both 1955 and 1956, while Greg Kite was with the Boston Celtics in four straight appearances from 1984 through 1987. Ainge was also a part of those four Celtics teams and played again last year in the Finals with the Portland Trail Blazers.

FRANK LIKES MIKE: Two Utah collegians on the Suns notwithstanding, Jazz president Frank Layden sees another Chicago Bulls NBA title despite the fact Phoenix has the homecourt advantage.

"Phoenix hasn't played particularly well throughout the playoffs,"says Layden. "I think they should have gone through the teams they played a lot easier and a lot quicker than they did. On the other hand, the Bulls beat the best team in basketball (the New York Knicks) with four wins in a row."

Layden also isn't buying the talk that the 1993 Finals will decide who's the greatest, Barkley or Jordan.

"Nothing against Charles Barkley," says Layden. "But I don't compare the two. Michael Jordan is on another planet. Charles Barkley is a great player, but we're talking about the greatest player who ever lived. There is no comparison."

LEG LAG: Former BYU all-American Devin Durrant has a pretty good idea what Shawn Bradley will be facing in a few months when he takes legs that have spent the past two years doing missionary work and puts them into the NBA.

"It won't come back all at once," says Durrant, who is generally considered the first Mormon missionary who interrupted his basketball career and didn't experience a long-term letdown. "It took me about six months before I felt I had the strength I had before I went. I think it will probably take him (Bradley) about that long. After that, I think he'll just get better and better."

Like Bradley, who returned last week from his mission to Australia, Durrant returned from his mission, in Spain, in the early summer. "By about midseason, or January, I started to feel like I felt before I left," says Durrant. "I never took a jump shot on my mission, but I tried to keep my legs strong. If we went into a four-floor building and we could either take the elevator or the stairs, we'd take the stairs. And I'd run on preparation day. Depending on the condition of his legs, it may take him less time to come back, or maybe a little longer."

A GIANT LEAP: The difference between Durrant and Bradley, of course, is that Durrant came back from his mission and played two more years of college basketball before joining the NBA, where he played for a season and a half prior to a European career. Bradley will jump directly into the NBA.

"The difference between the NBA and college is about like going from high school to college," says Durrant. "In high school you may play against one all-stater or two or even three through the whole season. Then in college everybody's all-state. In college you may play against two or three All-Americans a year, whereas in the NBA a vast majority are All-Americans. There's an adjustment period at each level. The talented player seemed to make the adjustment period over time."

Since concluding his European career in France four seasons ago, Durrant has been working with the WordPerfect Corp. in Provo. He is now in the process of leaving WordPerfect and forming a real estate investment company with a close friend, Pete Peterson.

RUMORS AND MORE RUMORS: In a recent NBA notes column on the Scripps-Howard wire, Jerry Zgoda of Minneapolis wrote about the Cleveland Cavaliers' coaching vacancy: "The Cavs put out a feeler to P.J. Carlesimo, who wasn't interested. Utah coach Rick Majerus remained a possibility."

Majerus, on vacation until June 15, wasn't available for comment.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Art Witters, a high school football coach in Tallahassee, Fla., after receiving a $39,000 Corvette from Tampa Bay cornerback Martin Mayhew, who promised his coach a new car if he made the pros: "I'm still kind of stunned. I wake up in the middle of the night to check the garage to make sure it's still there. It hurt my back the first couple of nights sleeping in it."