BEDFORD – It was hard not to miss the legacy that preceded her. After all two separate tributes exist.
The first is the most obvious. It sits in the hallway leading toward the auxiliary gym at Bedford North Lawrence High School, next to a stairwell and at least ten feet off the ground.
In this trophy case is a number 32 blue jersey with the word “Stars” across the chest on the left with a banner bearing the player’s last name to the right. Just to the right or left of those are a few plaques along with a blown up newspaper front page telling of the exploits of the Stars’ guard from 1986-1990.
Right in the middle is a giant picture of him in a pose with his Mr. Basketball jersey from the 1990 season, something which Alexa Bailey has looked up at a number of times since she entered the school as a freshman in the fall of 2011.
The display case could be viewed as one of intimidation or perhaps even pressure as she started her basketball career. After all, the pictures in the display case are her father.
“It’s really cool,” said Alexa of her father Damon. “My freshman year coming in everybody knew who I was already and I was little freshman. Everybody talked about him and knew everything about him. Seeing his name everywhere, his name on the floor, pictures in the hallway.
Of course there is another that she could take a look at down the hall, this one featuring the 1990 Boys Basketball IHSAA Championship Trophy and a few more pictures of Damon. Something to live up to, perhaps, but Alexa tries to keep it simple.
“Just take it for what it is,” said Bailey. “No pressure.”
After all, it takes more that one, as she would figure out over the next 18 months.
Sitting not far from the state championship banner he helped put up 23 years ago, Damon stood underneath the basket watching his newest Bedford North Lawrence train inside the school’s gym.
“Come meet your passes,” says the girls basketball assistant coach as he surveys the drill just ahead.
It’s the newest way that Bailey contributes to Stars’ basketball, this time helping the girl’s team who is coached by friend Kurt Godlevske.
“I came to him and asked him five years ago we were getting ready to play Sectionals and I asked him if he’d be willing to help me with film and breakdown because Jeffersonville was obviously a really good team,” said the current girls basketball coach of how Bailey got on the staff. “I asked him at that point if he’d be interested in helping our team and he said he’d think about.
“That summer he said he’d be willing to do it.”
So back to the school came Bailey, whose rise to greatness within the state began with another head coach breaking down his game. According to the Book “Season on the Brink” written by John Feinstein, Indiana head coach Bobby Knight saw the guard play in eighth grade and said: “Damon Bailey is better than any guard we have right now. I don’t mean potentially better, I mean better today.”
That was the beginning of a star-crossed career in Bedford and one that culminated with one of the most memorable moments in the history of Indiana High School Basketball. In front of 41,000 fans at the Hoosier Dome when the Stars beat Concord 63-60 to take home a state championship when only one was crowned for the entire state.
“It’s the ultimate goal as a high school basketball player,” said Bailey. “This is why we all play the game, this is why we coach the game.”
The latter that is most on his mind these days, especially the player wearing the number 22 jersey. That’s Alexa, a starting guard on the varsity who is being tutored by her famous father at the same high school where he put himself on the basketball map.
“She’s done a phenomenal job of handling that, keeping everything in perspective,” said Bailey of Alexa trying to make her own path at the school. “I think for her, a lot like myself, when you have goals, when you have things you’re continuing to work towards, it makes it much easier.
“There’s always that next step you are trying to take, no matter how well you play today or how bad you play today, you’re always trying to get better and achieve something else.”
Attendance isn’t what it used to be in the State of Indiana when it comes to high school basketball. That is obvious.
The 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s featured massive crowds at iconic prep venues for basketball which supported the theory that Indiana was the center of American basketball. The Hollywood plot of the movie “Hoosiers” wasn’t that far off in a number of communities across the Hoosier State.
Now that kind of attention is focused in pockets. Bedford is one of them and on Semi-State night for the Stars the atmosphere was a throwback.
A complete sellout greeted the Lady Stars as they faced Roncalli for a chance to make the Class 4A State Finals and appear in the title game for the first time since 1992. The didn’t disappoint, winning the game in double overtime over the Rebels as the crowds noise lived up to its size.
“We have to be able to go out and handle the pressure,” said Bailey of the Stars who improved to 27-0 with the victory and advance to the state title game the following Saturday against Fort Wayne Southside. “We have to go out and play well and make shots and do the things we’ve done all year and if we do that we feel that we can compete with anybody.
“We’ve got a lot of very talented ladies on this team.”
His daughter Alexa is one of those talented ten athletes on the team and the goal for Damon is to try to make sure that he keeps his focus on all of them at the same time. It’s not something Bailey is doing for the first time since he coached Alexa and many of those on the current Bedford North Lawrence team in AAU.
“With these kids, as I said, having coached most of them for a lot of years, at some level they are all my daughters,” said Bailey. “I care about all of them and you know roles and things have really been established early on. If my daughter has an advantage we call a play from her but we’ve got a lot of other talented kids on this team that if they’ve got the advantage, we’re doing what’s best for the team.
“It’s not about me, it’s not about my daughter, its what’s best for BNL.”
Godlevske has seen him balance that in 2012-2013 and admires how Bailey manages to keep his focus wide when it comes to helping the team improve.
“He with his kids just like all of our kids, just wants them to do the right thing in all aspects,” said Godlevske of Bailey. “That’s really what we’ve always tried to convince our kids and talk to our kids about no matter what your doing on the floor, off the floor and when you’re gonna be a mom or a career person later in life just always go about doing things the right way.”
Yet all of this, just like the pressure she faces as a Bailey playing for the Stars, was no big deal for the sophomore guard.
“He wants it done the right way, he knows what he’s talking about,” said Alexa of her father. “Like I said, I don’t know any different because he has been my coach since I was little. He’s fun to play for.”
Twenty-eight games without a loss came together about 30 seconds after the final buzzer sounded inside the Hulman Center.
As the large traveling gallery of Stars fans came to their feet to salute Bedford North Lawrence after their 54-51 victory over Fort Wayne Southside to capture the program’s first championship in two decades.
Shortly after the team gathered in a huddle Alexa broke away to find her father. Together the shared a hug in front of the scorers table seconds after a second generation of the Bailey family fulfilled their goal of a state championship.
“He’s taught me a lot of what I know,” said Alexa. “For him to be with me while we’re doing this, it’s special.”
Back in the same position he was 23 years earlier, Damon agreed.
“That’s something that’s special and if you have a kid at whatever level that follows in your footsteps it makes you feel good,” said Damon. “Basketball was such a big part of my life and still is a big part of my life today and to be able to share that with one of your children it makes all the time and effort really worth it.”
For a daughter and a school. They matter more than a collection of jerseys and trophies in a pair of cases.