SALT LAKE CITY — If BYU beats No. 1 Connecticut on Saturday, don’t be surprised if Cougar forward Morgan Bailey goes all Jim Valvano about it. In 1983, the North Carolina State coach was so overcome by beating Houston for the national championship that he aimlessly raced about the court, looking for someone to hug.
Bailey could end up doing the same.
She’s learned from an eyewitness just what to do.
The BYU junior is the niece of Thurl Bailey, Jazz TV analyst and former college and NBA player. He was on Valvano’s championship team, celebrating with everyone. So if there’s anyone she should channel, it’s him.
“The nice thing about what we did is that there’s now a lot of teams like that, like Morgan’s team, that are achieving things,” Thurl said. “This whole NCAA bracket has been crazy. But I’ll be sure to give her a pep talk.”
Realistically, she might not need one. After BYU upset North Carolina State in the first round, she leaped about with teammates and later tweeted: “Sorry we took out ur alma mater, Uncle Thurl. It had to be done. @bigTbailey#41#byuwbb #letsplay #upset #secondround #NCAAMarchMadness2014.”
This is how to celebrate in the age of social media: a declarative statement followed by a lot of hash tags.
Thurl had Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon to address; Morgan has Breanna Stewart, Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, all preseason all-Americas. Connecticut, winner of eight national titles, is averaging a 36-point win.
“I know exactly how she feels,” Thurl said. “I’ll get to talk to her before the next game. She knows the whole (NC State) story and uses it to inspire and achieve the things she’s been able to achieve.”
The Cougars led off this year’s tournament by beating the No. 5-seeded Wolfpack, 72-57. It was a nice little surprise. But they followed by shocking Nebraska, a No. 4 seed, to become only the third No. 12 seed in history to make the Sweet 16.
Suddenly they resembled the sixth-seeded NC State men’s team of 1983.
Morgan Bailey came by her gifts naturally. “With the Bailey genetics, I knew she was going to be tall and a post player and have that body type,” said Thurl.
For good measure, she learned to shoot the 3-pointer. She is fourth on the team in scoring and second in rebounding. Despite being an inside player, she is also fourth in 3-point percentage.
Plus, she has a healthy dose of attitude.
“She’s as loving as can be off the court,” Thurl said, “but when it’s time to suit up, you don’t want to get in her way.”
Thurl’s influence wasn’t just passing. Morgan was raised in Utah by her mother, but her uncle also took an active role. He consulted whenever schedules allowed, as she worked her way through Timpanogos High. They talked about footwork, positioning and confidence in the post.
Thanksgiving Day in Richfield with relatives turned into teaching sessions.
He also baptized her and her two siblings into the LDS Church. In honor of her uncle, Morgan wears No. 41.
Just like Big T, minus the goggles.
“I haven’t talked to him lately. He’s busy with the Jazz,” she said on Wednesday. “I’m sure he would give me some pointers because he was in my shoes. I wear his number so it’s just fun to live that for him.”
Speaking of living, the Cougars are doing just that. A second-place finisher in the WCC, they weren’t expected to get past the first round, much less the second. Morgan totaled 13 points and 12 rebounds against NC State and followed with an 18-point, six-rebound night against Nebraska.
“She’s a very determined young lady,” Thurl said.
Connecticut appears determined, too — it’s 36-0.
“It’s funny when you have someone that’s so close to you and in the position you’ve been in,” Thurl said. “It’s a great feeling to know that some of what you have said might have ended up helping her. She’s wearing No. 41. I’m so proud of her.”
Proud enough to #shout #sing #celebrate.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company