When you think of some of the players that were in the spotlight since their high school days and hyped up for years before entering the NBA, names like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Zion Williamson come first to mind. But you probably never heard of the one that was the most coveted of them all. His name is Damon Bailey.
Indiana is widely known to be crazy about basketball. And what better place to have a basketball phenom in the making than there. Back in 1986, Bailey was only in the 8th grade. His name started to blow up when the legendary coach Bob Knight came to watch him play. It would be unusual to see a coach of his magnitude watch a middle schooler play today, let alone back in the ’80s, so this was a huge deal. Knight was impressed with what he saw, as he said Bailey was better than any guard on Indiana State already at that age.
From a very early age, you could see Damon was better than his peers, being one step ahead of everybody on the floor. Bailey instantly became a celebrity in his state, as everybody wanted a piece of him. Nobody got that much attention in Indiana since Larry Bird was balling out in his high school days. That alone can assure you how special Damon was. The pressure on his back was enormous, but Bailey never let it affect him.
Bailey became the clear-cut leading scorer in the history of the state of Indiana with over 3000 points. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year, 4x All-State First Team, McDonald’s All American, Mr. Basketball of Indiana, Naismith High School Player of the Year, and many more.
In his last high school game, Bailey played in the packed Hoosier Dome with 41,000 people in attendance, and he gave them a show. In a matchup with an undefeated team, Bailey’s team would find itself down six with two minutes to go in the game. But Bailey had to win, so he scored the last 11 points for his team to get the victory, winning the championship in a movie-type fashion.
As you suspected, Bailey committed to his hometown Indiana University, a team that was expected to win the National Championship every year. Damon was a starter for four years at Indiana, but he never managed to win the title. It wasn’t the outcome everybody around him expected. The disappointment culminated with Bob Knight calling Bailey’s career a disappointment. A statement that would hurt Damon tremendously and shatter his confidence. Many people judged Knight for saying that, as Bailey left it all on the court for Indiana, but after numerous injuries, he just wasn’t the same player Bob Knight saw in middle school.
Bailey was drafted by his hometown Indiana Pacers in the 1994 Draft. But after seven knee surgeries and only one year, Bailey got cut without ever playing in a regular-season game. He played professionally until 2003 when he called quits and retired.
Bailey never managed to be the player everybody expected him to be during his high school days. If he were lucky enough to avoid injuries and put in the right situation, Damony Bailey could have been something special in the NBA. Bailey isn’t a bust or the prodigy the media made him out to be. He was just a great player with all the pressure of the world on his shoulders. The most important thing is Baily himself has no regrets about his career – he gave it his all.