When Illinois-Chicago coach Jimmy Collins was recruiting local
product Martell Bailey four years ago, he would usually call the
player's house early in the morning. Many times Bailey's high
school teammate Cedrick Banks, who often slept over at the
Baileys', would answer the phone. "The same thing would happen
when I called Cedrick's house," recalls Collins, who was also
making his pitch to Banks. "Martell was almost always there."
That close friendship ultimately worked to Illinois-Chicago's
advantage: While the two Westinghouse High seniors attracted
interest from major programs, Collins was the only coach who
said, "I'll take you both."
Now Bailey and Banks, though not as widely recognized as some
counterparts at higher-profile schools, are among the best
college backcourt duos in the country. Last season, point guard
Bailey led the nation in total assists (244, for an 8.1 average),
while Banks was the Horizon League's fourth-highest scorer (19.0
points per game). Heading into 2003-04, Banks was voted the
conference's preseason player of the year. Thanks largely to this
twosome, the Flames were 7-2 through Sunday and favored to win
their second Horizon title in three years. "We just understand
each other really well out there," Banks says.
That court telepathy was in evidence as soon as Bailey and Banks
began playing together on an eighth-grade team at a YMCA on
Chicago's West Side. They had planned to go to different high
schools, but the way they meshed at the Y persuaded them to stay
together and attend Westinghouse, where in four years they went
132-3 (including 70-0 in two years on the junior varsity).
As freshmen at Illinois-Chicago, Bailey and Banks were
academically ineligible. "It would have been a lot harder if one
was playing and one was sitting out," Bailey says. They became
eligible as sophomores and were starters by December of that
2001-02 season. The Flames, who had won a total of 29 games over
the previous three years, were 41-23 during the tandem's
sophomore and junior seasons, reaching the NCAA tournament in
December 15, 2003
This season Bailey and Banks have continued to vex opponents with
their contrasting yet complementary styles. "He likes to
penetrate and hit the open man," says Banks, "and I like to get
open." The 6'3" Banks has a quick release and deep range (37.2%
career from beyond the arc). The 5'10" Bailey is an especially
efficient passer. In a 77-74 win over Evansville on Nov. 25,
Bailey had a career-high 15 assists and one turnover. Says
Evansville coach Steve Merfeld, "He just delivers the ball to
where it needs to be delivered."
Best of all, Bailey and Banks are on track to graduate on time.
Because they sat out as freshmen, they have another year of
eligibility. Bailey plans to return to the Flames, but Banks says
he will likely opt for the NBA draft next spring. Thus the pair
might play on different teams for the first time in nine years.
No matter--they'll always be close. "We've been together for so
long," Banks says, "it's like we're brothers."
Besides Martell Bailey and Cedrick Banks of Illinois-Chicago,
here are five top collegiate guard combinations. (The point guard
is listed first; statistics through Saturday.)
SCHOOL STARTING GUARDS SKINNY
Arizona Mustafa Shakur, Fr. Cat-quick, with all-court game
Salim Stoudamire, Jr. One of nation's best shooters
Georgia Tech Jarrett Jack, Soph. Distributes brilliantly (8.4 apg)
B.J. Elder, Jr. Team-best 16.0 scoring average
Illinois Dee Brown, Soph. Mouthy, but backs it up
Deron Williams, Soph. Swishes and dishes (7.2 apg)
North Raymond Felton, Soph. Steady hand at the helm
Carolina Rashad McCants, Soph. Slasher who can finish
Saint Jameer Nelson, Sr. Nation's best all-around guard
Joseph's Delonte West, Jr. Sharpshooter (48.6% from field)