If anyone knows what Romeo Langford is going through, it's Damon Bailey

Photo: Mike Fender, Indy Star

If anyone knows what Romeo Langford is going through, it's Damon Bailey

News

If anyone knows what Romeo Langford is going through, it's Damon Bailey

People want to talk to Damon Bailey this week. Which does not make it that much different than any other week. This is Indiana, after all, and people always want to talk to Damon Bailey.

That is OK. Bailey, 46, has been politely answering questions for 30-something years.

“The only difference now is that I don’t have coach (Dan) Bush to shield me from it,” Bailey joked Tuesday.

There have been basketball players from Indiana that have gone on to bigger and brighter college and NBA careers. But maybe none before or since matched the fervor of Bailey-mania in Bedford. When Damon Bailey played, people from all over the state filled the 6,300-capacity gym. He finished his career at Bedford North Lawrence in 1990 with a state championship played in front of 41,046 fans at the Hoosier Dome.

He was a teenage hoops icon. Adults waited in line to get his autograph. Strangers drove slowly past his house to see where the schoolboy legend and state’s all-time leading scorer lived.

“It makes you grow up at a younger age than you probably want to,” Bailey said. “You can’t do some of the things other 17- and 18-year-olds can.”

If there is anybody who can understand what it was like to be Damon Bailey, it is Romeo Langford. When New Albany plays home games in its 4,100-seat gym, the sign on the door reads “sold out” even before the junior varsity game begins. When the game is over — at home or on the road — fans line up to get an autograph. He has never turned anyone down, even if it takes an hour for the line to dissipate.

If there’s anybody who can understand what is like to be Romeo Langford, it is Damon Bailey. And on Friday night, as he chases Bailey’s record — a record that neither of them really “chased” — Langford will play the final game of his high school career in front of a crowd that adores him.

The opponent? Bedford North Lawrence. Bailey will be there, filling his role as an assistant coach for Matt Seifers. Bailey’s only son, Brayton Bailey, is a sophomore standout for the Stars.

It is all too perfect. Damon and Romeo, together under one roof. Bailey laughs. He is never one to seek out the attention. Langford is cut from the same mold. But it will be unavoidable on Friday night.

“It will be a zoo for a lot of reasons,” Bailey said. “With his senior night and us being in the same building, it will be a zoo. But obviously to be part of history and to be able to witness him chasing a record that in some people’s minds thought would never be broken, that is a neat deal. But I’ll be there trying to win a basketball game and so will Romeo.”

***

There are a lot of people who care more about the scoring record than Bailey and Langford.

It was the night of March 10, 1990, in front of a standing-room only crowd of 8,110 at Seymour’s Barney Scott Gymnasium, when Bailey took an alley-oop pass from Chad Mills in the fourth quarter of a 78-58 regional win over Scottsburg and broke the state-record of 3,019 points set by Lewisville’s Marion Pierce in 1961.

Fans threw toilet paper rolls on to the court to celebrate. The sellout crowd gave Bailey a standing ovation. But the scoring record was never a source of motivation.

“It’s a great honor and something you can be proud of, but to be honest I never gave it a second thought when I was playing or even today,” he said. “If Romeo breaks the record, it doesn’t make me any less of a player or it doesn’t make him any less of a player if he doesn’t break it. It’s probably hard for people to understand, but I think it’s just something for fans and media to discuss and have fun with. It’s a reason for my name to come up again.”

Bailey finished with 3,134 points, a mark that has only been approached with any serious threat one other time in the past 28 seasons. That came in 2010 when Deshaun Thomas of Fort Wayne Bishop Luers became the third player to reach 3,000 points. Thomas ended up one point behind Pierce with 3,018 points when Luers was upset in the Class 2A regional semifinal by Southwood.

With two regular season games remaining (New Albany plays at Bloomington North on Feb. 23), Langford has 2,780 career points to rank No. 4. He has been scorching hot lately, even by his high standards. He scored a career-high 63 points in a win over Jennings County two weeks ago, followed by games of 44 against Columbus East and 53 against Providence.

At most, New Albany would play eight or nine more games. If the Bulldogs get a bye in the sectional and advance to the state finals, he would have to average 44.3 points in eight games. With an extra game, he would have to average 39.3 points. Langford is averaging 36.9 points in 19 games this season for the second-ranked Bulldogs (19-1), missing one game due to a dislocated finger.

Bailey was remarkably consistent during his senior season. He averaged 31.3 points in 1989-90 with a high of 42 points. Over 110 games in his four-year career, Bailey averaged 28.4 points per game.

“From everything I’ve heard about Romeo and seen, he plays the game the right way,” Bailey said. “He’s unselfish, he gives the ball up when he’s double-teamed and doesn’t get caught up in the hoopla. He goes on to the next game. I know he’s had some terrific games lately from a point total. But if that record was all I cared about, we wouldn’t even be talking about it. And if it was something that he really cared about, he would have broken it already.”

***

Bailey wants Langford to go to Indiana. Of course he does.

Bailey was already committed to Indiana during his senior season at Bedford North Lawrence, having been famously recruited by Bob Knight as an eighth grader. In John Feinstein’s book, “A Season on the Brink”, Knight called Bailey “better than any guard we have right now.” Bailey was 14.

The first time Bailey and Langford talked in person was at Indiana’s preseason Hoosier Hysteria event. Langford, ranked as the No. 5 player in the country by 247sports, cut his list to Kansas, Indiana and Vanderbilt in November.

Where will Romeo go? Fans chant “IU, IU, IU” at Langford’s games, proclaiming their choice. Bailey would love to see it happen. He shared his thoughts with Langford when the two met at Hoosier Hysteria.

“I don’t think IU was really in the running until coach (Archie) Miller got there so they obviously got in the game a little late,” said Bailey, who scored 1,741 points in his four-year Indiana career. “I don’t think that there’s a bad choice (on his list). Basketball is basketball. He’s going to have a tremendous amount of success from a basketball standpoint, I have no doubt. For a kid from Indiana to experience the love and appreciation people have for high school basketball, it’s a great opportunity to go to (Indiana). Easy for me to say as a former player. But what do you want out of that experience after basketball? It ends for everybody at some point.”

Bailey said he has not talked to Langford since Hoosier Hysteria.

“I told him if he’s planning on moving back to Indiana when he’s done playing, he’d be crazy to go anywhere but Indiana,” Bailey said. “And I told him I hope he wins every game but two — when we play him in the regular season and sectional.”

Bailey still looks like he could lace ‘em up and drop 30 points.

After serving as an assistant for the women’s program at Butler for three seasons, he resigned in the spring of 2017 to focus his attention on the Bedford-based Hawkins-Bailey Warehouse distribution company he has co-owned for many years.

That move has afforded him the opportunity to coach his son, Brayton, who is averaging more than 16 points a game for the 12-7 Stars. Bailey was the head coach for the boys team from 2005-07 before serving as an assistant for the girls program on the Class 4A state championship team in 2012-2013 and head coach for the state title team in 2014 after Kurt Godlevske was hired at Butler from Bedford North Lawrence.

“It’s hard to walk away from coaching,” said Bailey, who coached daughters Alexa and Loren. “(Brayton) might have a different opinion but I’ve enjoyed it. You want to be able to give some knowledge of basketball to these kids as they grow up. But we were all 16, 17 and 18 at one point and being around mom and dad was not a high priority.”

Friday’s game is a gift from the Indiana basketball gods. Senior night for Langford. Bailey on the opposing bench. Romeo and Damon, two legends together under one roof. The roof might not be there by the end of the night.

Bailey might catch a glimpse of the autograph line before the leaves the New Albany gym on Friday night and heads back to Bedford. He might be the only person who truly understands what Langford has experienced as high school basketball player.

“I know it can get tiring and challenging at times,” Bailey said. “I was lucky to have coach Bush and others to shield me from some of it. I know Romeo has that, too. But from everything I’ve seen, he’s handled it great. I know I didn’t set out to set the record in high school and I’m sure that wasn’t his goal either. But it’s something that came along because of his ability. He has that ability.”

For more, visit the Indianapolis Star

Latest

More USA TODAY High School Sports
Home
https://usat.ly/2EsWN4U
If anyone knows what Romeo Langford is going through, it's Damon Bailey
I found this story on USA TODAY High School Sports and wanted to share it with you: %link% For more high school stories, stats and videos, visit http://usatodayhss.com.