Thurl Bailey Didn’t Make Youth Basketball Team, Coach Said He Wasn’t Meant To Play Basketball

Mar 3, 2020, 9:36 AM | Updated: Mar 4, 2020, 9:41 am
Thurl Bailey, host of Thurl Talk...
Thurl Bailey, host of Thurl Talk

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah Jazz legend Thurl Bailey didn’t make his middle school basketball team – two years in a row.

Bailey was 6’4” at the age of 13 but at the time “basketball wasn’t really his thing.” Instead, he was into schoolwork and music – he played the trombone and the tuba.

Until one day he saw Dr. J on TV. That’s when he fell in love with basketball.

“I didn’t really know what was going on or any of the players but my eyes were transfixed on one particular guy … he (Dr. J) was elegant it was like he was just gliding down the court and he had the best hairstyle I had ever seen,” Bailey said on his podcast, Thurl Talk.

Falling In Love With Basketball

The day Bailey learned who Dr. J (Julius Erving) was is the day he realized he wanted to be him – a professional basketball player.

His excitement for basketball never died down. Bailey’s dad helped him collect as much information about Dr. J as he possibly could to satisfy his need to learn about him.

Next, Bailey realized if he wanted to be Dr. J, he needed to learn to play basketball. His dad agreed to teach him and nailed a basketball hoop right into the side of the house.

He and his dad made a makeshift basketball court and went to work learning the game.

Trying Out For The Team With Thurl Bailey

In 7th grade, Bailey tried out for his junior high school basketball team on his quest to become Dr. J.

Bailey recalled walking into tryouts and there were about 50 other people there but he thought he had a great chance of making the team – his confidence was high.

“I may not have known a lot about but the game … I knew at 6”4” I was closer to the rim than any of the guys trying out,” he said.

During the tryout, Bailey recalled not being very good at dribbling.

He found out the next day that he did not make the team.

The same thing happened the following year – the 6’7” 8th grader didn’t make the team.

After Bailey found out he hadn’t made the team and was walking away, his coach stopped him.

“Son you were not meant to play this sport. You are a waste of my time, I don’t have time to teach you how to play basketball,” said the coach, “Don’t come out for my team next year because you’ll be wasting my time and yours.”

Third Time Charm?

Lucky for Bailey, that would be that coach’s last season. For his 9th grade year, a new coach took over and 6’9” Bailey finally made the team.

“It was the greatest day of my life when I saw my name (on the list),” Bailey continued the story.

Bailey told about his new coach spending an hour before and after practice every day working with him in order to help him improve.

“Son, I see potential in you. Potential you don’t even see in yourself and I think I can bring that out,” Thurl recalled what his coach said to him.

The Career Of Thurl Bailey

After a tumultuous experience with his middle school basketball team, Bailey went on to become a Utah Jazz legend.

Bailey played college basketball at North Carolina State. After college, the Utah Jazz drafted him in the first round of the NBA Draft.

On the podcast, Bailey told the story of entering his first NBA game and being congratulated by his childhood hero – Dr. J.

During his NBA career, Bailey played in 928 games and averaged 12.8 points per game and 1.4 assists.

Now, he spends his time as a TV analyst for the Utah Jazz and hosts a podcast called Thurl Talk,  where you can hear the entirety of his journey to basketball.

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Thurl Bailey Didn’t Make Youth Basketball Team, Coach Said He Wasn’t Meant To Play Basketball