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Pace Mannion and Thurl Bailey began friendship at ’83 NCAA tourney

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Pace Mannion, left, and Thurl Bailey played each other in the 1983 NCAA Regionals held in Ogden.

Pace Mannion, left, and Thurl Bailey played each other in the 1983 NCAA Regionals held in Ogden.

T.J. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — They first crossed paths in 1983, during the star-crossed senior seasons of their collegiate basketball careers.

They played professionally together as Utah Jazz teammates for a couple of years, played against each other for a couple more seasons in Europe, and now find themselves working together as members of the Jazz's television broadcast team.

Who knew that, 27 years after they first bumped heads in the NCAA Tournament, the lives of Thurl Bailey and Pace Mannion would become so intertwined? Of course, it was Bailey's North Carolina State squad that beat Mannion's University of Utah team in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tourney back in '83 at Weber State's Dee Events Center. The Wolfpack whipped the Utes 75-56 that March night on their way to winning the national championship in a memorable title-game upset against top-ranked Houston.

"I'm reminded of it constantly because Thurl wears that (championship) ring to the TV show every night, and sometimes he taps that ring on the desk," Mannion said. "He reminds me that he ended my college career.

"We talk about it every March when the tournament rolls around. But Thurl is so humble, he'll tease me about it sometimes but never in front of anybody.

"Thurl was the best player they had and he was a good leader for that team. They had a good ballclub. We talk about that team, about how good they were and how they got to where they got," Mannion said with utmost respect and admiration for his broadcasting colleague.

Bailey, of course, became the first-round draft pick of the Jazz that summer and spent the first eight years of his 16-year professional basketball career playing for Utah. Jazz management reportedly drafted him not only for the quality of his game, but also for the quality of his character.

In November 1991, the 6-foot-11 forward they affectionately called "Big T" was traded by the Jazz to Minnesota for Tyrone Corbin — now a Jazz assistant coach — and spent three seasons with the Timberwolves. Then, after playing pro ball in Greece and Italy for four years, Bailey returned to the Jazz for his final pro season in 1999.

He and Mannion, who now work together as studio analysts along with David James on the Jazz TV broadcasts, were Jazz teammates from 1984-86. Bailey really doesn't relish making Mannion remember their 1983 March Madness matchup. "I really don't like to remind him," Bailey said, "but sometimes he has to be humbled. That's why I wear my ring, especially this time of year.

"I never bring it up in a conversation. I let him bring it up and then I finish it — just like I did his college career," he added with a chuckle.

Mannion, though, really doesn't need too many reminders of their first '83 meeting on the Dee Center court.

"That was my senior year, and Thurl always says, 'Yeah, I ended your career, didn't I?'" the former Utes' star shooting guard said. "We've got a good relationship and we've become such good friends on the show. He's just a good guy.

"We played two years together on the Jazz, and we played against each other in Italy, so he's been a nemesis of mine for a long time. He's always been a thorn in my side — and still is."

Did you know?

In seven of N.C. State's last nine victories during the 1983 season, the Wolf Pack trailed in the last minute.

No team had ever won the NCAA championship before with 10 losses.

e-mail: rhollis@desnews.com