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Sportswriter Memories: Bailey lived up to his billing
Former sportswriter for The Indianapolis Star
He entered high school basketball with expectations unlike any player before him, yet Damon Bailey more than delivered on all the hype.
Touted as a future standout while an eighth-grader in “A Season on the Brink,” the John Feinstein book about the 1985-86 Indiana University basketball season, Bailey lived up to the billing by:
* Leading Bedford North Lawrence High School to three State Finals berths.
* Almost single-handedly lifting the Stars to the 1990 state championship in front of a record 41,046 fans in the Hoosier Dome, scoring 30 points -- including his team’s final 11 -- in a 63-60 come-from-behind victory over previously undefeated Concord.
* Finishing his career with a state-record 3,134 career points.
* Becoming a four-time first-team all-state selection, the 1990 Indiana Mr. Basketball and the 1990 consensus National Player of the Year.
“BNL had a lot in common with Hickory,” Bailey told Sports Illustrated, comparing the Stars’ title run to that of the fictional team in the movie “Hoosiers.” “Not because we’re a small school. We’re one of the biggest in the state. But we had nobody over 6-3, and no one thought we could win it.”
Bailey began his high school career with 20 points on just six shots in a game against Scottsburg. Ultimately, he played in 110 varsity games, reached double figures in all of them, had a career high of 51 against Jeffersonville as a sophomore and averaged 28.4 points.
As a freshman, the Stars advanced to the State Finals and ran into two-time defending champion Marion in the semifinals. Bailey scored 20 points in that game and BNL trailed 47-46 after three quarters, but he fouled out with 2:06 to go and the Giants – led by Lyndon Jones and Jay Edwards – prevailed 70-61 en route to their third straight state title.
The next season, BNL again qualified for the final four, this time facing Muncie Central. Bailey totaled 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, but it was not enough as the Bearcats used 32 points and 13 rebounds from Chandler Thompson to post a 60-53 victory. Muncie Central then beat previously unbeaten Concord 76-53 in the final.
After falling in the regional as a junior, Bailey & Co. returned to the State Finals as a senior, the event’s first season in the Hoosier Dome. This time, after breaking Marion Pierce’s 29-year-old state scoring record of 3,019 with 31 points against Scottsburg in the regional, Bailey was not to be denied.
In the semifinals, the 6-3 guard-forward scored 25 points as BNL overcame a 14-point first-half deficit to get past Southport 58-55. Then in the finals, with the Stars trailing Concord by six with 2:28 to go, Bailey took over down the stretch and showed why coach Dan Bush described him as the best player in the country.
“The greatest thrill in winning was proving to people that we could,” Bailey said to Sports Illustrated. “We didn’t walk out on the floor and scare anybody. We just had a lot of heart.”
Especially one Damon Bailey.