Thurl Bailey has always been close to his niece.
Now, Morgan Bailey has the chance to copy him, by shocking the basketball world.
That's what would happen if somehow BYU could upset UConn on Saturday in the Sweet 16.
It would be a No. 12 seed taking down a No. 1 seed. A team with seemingly no chance stunning a squad that is 36-0 and has hardly been challenged this season.
It would, in some ways, emulate Thurl Bailey and North Carolina State ousting Houston in the national championship game of 1983. And of course there would be that family connection.
"I know that Morgan will be prepared," Bailey said in a phone interview with the Daily Herald on Thursday. "She knows how big it is. She knows the North Carolina State story, that's for sure."
In one of those small, fun coincidences, it was Morgan who reached out to her uncle last week on social media after the Cougars knocked out No. 5-seeded North Carolina State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"Sorry, but we had to do it," Bailey typed, a message that elicits a laugh from Thurl.
BYU is playing its best basketball of the season at the perfect time. After a significant period of offensive ineptitude in the March 11 West Coast Conference championship game against Gonzaga, the Cougars are clicking. They earned an at-large NCAA bid, built on a 26-6 record. But it was still hard for many outsiders to imagine such a run.
NC State back in the day rallied from a rough regular season to win the ACC tournament title to get a chance in the NCAA Tournament. Houston became a No. 1 seed and cruised to the championship game. NC State became a No. 6 seed in the West, had a break here or there, but ultimately won it all on a last-second putback (BYU men's coach Dave Rose was a captain of that UH team) that still elicits goosebumps from American sports fans.
Bailey, who helps with coverage of Utah Jazz games, said he hasn't spoken to Morgan since the Cougars won their second game. But he would tell her:
"Just enjoy the moment."
Bailey has attended a few BYU games this year, however, when the NBA schedule has allowed it. He's been impressed by Jennifer Hamson's presence at center at both ends of the floor.
He likes the Cougars' guard play, appreciating it in part because of the obstacles Lexi Eaton and Kylie Maeda have overcome after significant knee injuries last year.
Bailey has known BYU coach Jeff Judkins for years, the two once upon a time running basketball camps together.
"He's doing a great job," Bailey said. "And the confidence he has is spilling out all over for that team right now."
Thurl sees a little bit of himself in Morgan's game, too.
How they use their bodies to create space and leverage inside. How they defend cleverly and consistently.
Thurl laughs that Morgan "has more of a green light than I ever did" to shoot 3-pointers.
"Her range is a lot better than mine," Bailey said.
Bailey had 18 points, six rebounds and three assists against No. 4-seeded Nebraska to help get the Cougars to the second weekend of the NCAA showcase for the first time since 2002.
Bailey is fourth in scoring and second in rebounding for the Cougars. Thurl led NC State in both categories on the way to being remembered as one of America's great champions, as coach Jim Valvano famously ran around the court after the game seeking out someone to hug.
"Everybody's an underdog at some point," Bailey said. "I think that's why the story resonates with so many people."
Thurl said he's honored that Morgan wears the same number, 41, that he sported through his career.
And sharing stories about his great college experience over the years, he believes she'll be ready.
"It's good nervousness," Bailey said. "It's an opportunity you earned to lay it all out there and try to make believers out of people."