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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Utah's Cedric Martin and Dallin Bachynski defend USC's Omar Oraby as Utah and USC play Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013 in the Hunstman Center.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah paid tribute to its Western Athletic Conference championships teams in 1981, 1983 and 1986 during Saturday’s game against USC. Players, coaches and support staff from the squads were honored at halftime for their contributions to the program and presented with championship watches.

The '80s gathering, which included a dinner Friday night and a pregame reception in the Huntsman Center, is part of an annual series of celebrations recognizing Utah’s conference championship teams each decade.

“It’s always great to see these guys come back. Some of these guys haven’t been back in 30 years,” said Utah Director of Athletic Relations Manny Hendrix, who was part of the 1983 and 1986 squads. “It’s great for them to be back. They’re part of the rich tradition.”

Hendrix added that is was exciting to bring everyone back, let them know they’re appreciated, and keep them engaged — or in some cases re-engage them — with the program.

“It’s pretty special,” said Utah Athletics Director Chris Hill, who was an assistant coach with the 1981 team. “They have enjoyed being here. It’s amazing how far some guys have come from and it always means a lot to them.”

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The returnees included former head coach Jerry Pimm and star player Danny Vranes, one of just seven Utes to have their number retired. They were part of the 1981 squad.

“I think it’s great that they have the former players, the former coaches and honor them like they’re doing this weekend,” Pimm said. “It’s a fun weekend for me because I get to see all my players.”

Vranes also enjoyed the reunion.

“The great part is just seeing the guys. Some of them I haven’t seen since the last day I played,” he said. “It really was a fun night last night hanging out with everybody. It’s just been great.”

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer