When the boys' basketball coach at Bedford (Ind.) North Lawrence High resigned on Nov. 1, athletic director Jeff Callahan reached out to an alumnus for help--Indiana hoops legend Damon Bailey, who still lives in town. Bailey was a natural choice for the job not only because of his basketball credentials--he led Bedford North Lawrence to the 1990 state championship as a senior, was named Indiana's Mr. Basketball and set the state record for career points (3,134)--but also because he had worked with many of the Bedford players at his summer camps and on AAU teams.
Though he had often thought about coaching Bedford North Lawrence one day, Bailey, 34, did not accept the position immediately. As co-owner of the Hawkins Bailey Warehouse, an industrial supply company, and the father of three young children--Alexa, 9, Loren, 7, and Brayton, 4--he was busy enough already. But his wife, Stacey, whom he had first dated when they were Bedford middle school students and who had recently been the high school's cheerleading coach, urged Damon to take the job at least for this season.
He did, with the conditions that he could move practices back to 5:30 p.m. and hire two experienced assistants, coaches he knew from the summer basketball circuit. "I'm asking them to do a lot because of my business situation," Bailey says. "And I need them to teach me how to coach."
Bailey played shooting guard for Bob Knight at Indiana University, reaching the Final Four as a sophomore in 1992 and making All--Big Ten as a senior. He was a second-round pick by the Indiana Pacers in the 1994 NBA draft but never played a game because of operations on both knees. He tried to make a comeback with the Fort Wayne Fury of the CBA, but in 1999, after four seasons, Bailey retired to focus on his business in Bedford--which, he says, is the only place where playing hoops didn't feel like a job to him. "I think high school basketball is the purest level of basketball, what basketball was meant to be," says Bailey, who used to practice on his own for an hour every day before classes.
After winning its first two games, Bedford North Lawrence lost by 34 points to state power Bloomington South on Dec. 13. Bailey realizes he can't push his new charges the way he drove himself. None are Division I prospects, and they have "a lot more things to do than I did when I was in high school," he says. Still, he demands that his players dive for every loose ball and chase every rebound. "I'm no bigger than they are; I'm no more athletic," Bailey says. "I just worked very hard to get the most out of my athletic ability, and I'm trying to get them to do the same."
Fifteen years after leading his high school to the state title, the Indiana hoops icon is back in the gym as a rookie coach.
Bailey's glory days continued at Indiana.