Being tall enough to reach the basket doesn't ensure you a place on the team, Jazz basketball player Thurl Bailey told an audience of cheering teens Monday.
Bailey was keynote speaker for Granite School District's "Invest in Yourself" self-esteem rally. An overflow crowd of 1,800 young people, enjoying the freedom of teacher preparation day, heard Bailey's speech at Taylorsville High School. During the day, they also heard from other motivational speakers including one of their peers, Olympic archer Denise Parker.Bailey told the crowd that from his first day in kindergarten, "I realized that there was something different about me. I towered over all the kids in my class."
He said he was a joiner who would involve himself in as many school clubs as he could, and he expected to be the leader. But when he tried out for seventh-grade basketball on the strength on his 6-foot, 4-inch frame and again in the eighth grade at 6 feet, 7 inches and found himself on the cut list both years, "I learned something about myself."
"It was the first time I failed at anything. I couldn't believe this guy had the nerve to cut me. I went in the restroom and cried for 15 minutes," he said.
In retrospect, Bailey said, he found there was good reason he was cut from the team. "I realize now that I couldn't play."
In ninth grade, now towering at 6 feet, 9 inches, Bailey gave it another try. When the typewritten list of those who made the team was posted, he found his name at the bottom of the list written in pencil.
But it was the beginning of his love affair with basketball that made him a national collegiate star and a Jazz recruit right out of college.
"You have to give yourself a chance," he told the teens. "If you give your all and come up short, that's OK."
When Bailey asked how many students disliked parents' lectures, he got a forest of hands. But he advised that they listen to parents "because they have your best interests at heart."
Selecting students from the audience, he did some delightful role playing, illustrating the temptations that young people face and encouraging choices that avoid trouble.
The animated Bailey referred to the sadness he felt when fellow athlete Len Bias made the wrong choice and died of a drug overdose. "He chose crack. He got no second chance," said Bailey, who experienced the frustration of a friend's life cut short needlessly.
"You can change things by your personal decisions. Forget my name. Forget my number. But remember what we talked about today," said Bailey.
He left the youth on a positive note. "When you make mistakes, you can soak in them and let them pile up, or with the help of friends, you can come out of it."
And, he added, "How about them Jazz?"