Thurl Bailey and North Carolina State's magical run to the 1983 NCAA title
In 1983 North Carolina State made one of the greatest runs to a championship in the history of college basketball, a run that was capped off with one of the greatest plays in basketball history and a moment all basketball fans will recognize.
Before Lorenzo Charles epic put-back against Houston to win the 1983 NCAA tournament and Jim Valvano's epic run out to mid court in celebration; the wolfpack were just a mediocre team that not many had given much thought to winning the championship. But, it was a moment that Valvano and the Wolf pack had been preparing for, as forward Thurl Baily put it, "he brings a ladder to practice. He puts the ladder underneath the hoop, he takes out a pair of scissors, and he said: "Today, for the next two hours, all we're going to do is to practice cutting down the nets"
But for all Valvano's bravado, it did not appear that the Wolf Pack were going to do very much that march. The year prior as a 7th seed they had been bounced in the first round by 10th seeded Chattanooga and in 1981 they failed to qualify for the tournament. The Pack entered the 1983 tournament as a 6th seed.
NC states run was almost ended before it began. They struggled mightily in the first game against Pepperdine, only winning in the last few seconds to advance. The second round gave the Wolf Pack another scare as they upset 3rd seeded UNLV to advance to the sweet sixteen.
In the sweet sixteen the Pack finally have an easier game as they beat underdog Utah by 19 points. Their next game was against the tournament favorite Virginia. The Cavaliers and Wolf Pack went down to the wire but the Pack was able to pull out a 1 point win to advance to the final four.
The Semi-final game against Georgia was not tight by NC State standards as the Pack pulled out a 7 point win to advance to face the Houston Cougars in the championship game. Historical records show that Betway, would have favored Houston going into the matchup.
The Houston Cougars were loaded with elite basketball talent, and had two of the best players in the country in Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon. Yes, it was Akeem in those days. Besides the two future hall-of-famers the Cougars also had Michael Young, and Larry Micheaux; both of whom would play in the NBA.
The North Carolina State Wolf Pack roster was also loaded with talent, just not with the big names. Four members of the Wolf Pack roster would go on to play in the NBA; Thurl Bailey, Lorenzo Charles, Corzell McQueen and Sidney Lowe.
The championship game was close throughout and with 44 seconds left in the game the Wolf Pack inbounded the ball. In 1983 there was no college shot in college basketball, the NCAA would not implement the shot block until 1985-86. This meant that the Wolf Pack could use the entire rest of the clock, and they did just that. The Wolf Pack passed the ball back and fourth, almost getting it stolen several times in the process, until there was just four second left on the clock.
With just four seconds on the clock, Derek Whittenburg took a midcourt shot, the shot was short but Lorenzo Charles grabbed it and dunked it back in with less than a second on the clock giving the Wolf Pack their second ever NCAA title.
Coach Valvano was so excited about the shot he ran out onto the floor, seemingly confused and stunned, as his players mobbed Charles. This has become one of the most iconic plays in college basketball history.
When asked about the moment, Wolf Pack forward Thurl Bailey laughed as he talked about him knowing the game was over, but Charles did not. Baily states Charles started running to get back on defense and was surprised when everyone mobbed him. Bailey says he has thought about the moment every day for the last 40 years.
The championship win changed the lives of everyone involved. Jim Valvano became one of the hottest coaches in the country, but he would stay with NC state until he was forced to retire for health reasons. In 1993, almost 10 years to the day after winning the national championship, he would give one of the most impassioned speaches in sports history. Valvano would die of cancer shortly after that. He is memoralized by ESPN with the Jimmy V award and the Jimmy V classic.
Corzell McQueen would have a short NBA career, appearing in just 3 games for the Pistons in 1987. The hero of the game, Lorenzo Charles, would be a 2nd round pick by the Hawks and also would play just one season in the NBA. Sidney Lowe was a first round pick by the Bulls in 1983, but quickly get traded to the Pacers were he never caught on. He became one of the rare first round picks to get cut in his second season. He bounced around the league with Detroit and Atlanta before playing in Europe. He came back for the expansion Hornets and Timberwolves, before going into coaching. Lowe has been the head coach for the Timberwolves and the Grizzlies. He has been an assistant coach for many other teams and is currently on the Cleveland Cavaliers bench.
The most success of the Wolf Pack championship team players was Thurl Bailey. Because of his success in college, the Jazz made Bailey the 7th pick in the 1983 NBA draft. Bailey never made an all-star team, but became one of the best sixth-men in the NBA. His best season was in 1988 where he averaged 20 points and 7 rebounds backing up Karl Malone. Big T, as Jazz fans call him, became one of the most popular players in Jazz history. He was traded to the Timberwolves in 1991 where he played 2 and a half season in Minnesota and four two of them he was coached by former Wolf Pack teammate Sidney Lowe.
Bailey would leave the NBA for Europe following the 1994 season, but returned to the Jazz in 1999 for the shortened lockout year. He would retire from basketball following his last season with the Jazz.
Bailey now lives in Salt Lake City and works as part of the local television crew for the Utah Jazz.