-- There is rarely a day that goes by that Damon Bailey doesn't hear the stories. They are almost Paul Bunyan-esque; tall tales of a small-town Indiana schoolboy legend who led his team to a state championship in front of more than 41,000 fans and became the state's all-time leading scorer.
The legend was spawned when Indiana coach Bob Knight watched Bailey as an eighth-grader at Shawswick Junior High, a story told by John Feinstein in his best-selling book, "A Season on the Brink." Sports Illustrated named Bailey the best high school freshman in the country in 1986, then four years later compared him to Jimmy Chitwood from the movie "Hoosiers" when he led Bedford North Lawrence North to the single-class state title.
He was a legend before his career at Indiana, where he scored 1,741 points in four years and helped the Hoosiers to two Big Ten titles and a Final Four.
"He couldn't even go to McDonald's to get a sandwich without people wanting a piece of him," said Bailey's former high school coach, Dan Bush. "But I never sensed that any of that bothered him."
If it did, Bailey probably would have chosen to raise his family somewhere other than Bedford, a community of more than 13,000 in Lawrence County.
The spotlight has found Bailey again. He's an assistant coach for Bedford North Lawrence's undefeated girls team, which features his oldest daughter, Alexa, as a sophomore starting guard. The Stars will play Fort Wayne South at approximately 8:15 p.m. Saturday in Terre Haute.
Seven knee operations have robbed Bailey of playing even an occasional pickup basketball game anymore. But he knows he'll never completely escape the image of the teenager cutting down the nets, forever frozen in time.
And that's OK.
"I hear a lot of stories," Bailey said with a chuckle. "I wouldn't say it's every day, but it's multiple times a week. For me, there's a lot of joy in that. As a basketball player, I worked as hard as I could to be good at it. One thing coach Knight said that's always stuck with me is that you don't play the game for accolades or to be on TV or to travel around the country.
"You play to bring joy to people's lives who may not have a lot else to look forward to."
These days, Bailey, 41, is a basketball phenom turned businessman and father. He is the co-owner of Hawkins Bailey Warehouse, an industrial supply company, in addition to serving as an assistant for his daughter's team.
Both roles offer a competitive outlet.
"It's all a game," he said of his business. "Sometimes you play well and sometimes you don't. My advice to any (former athlete) is to go into business for yourself. It will definitely fuel that competitiveness. I know it has for me."
BNL coach Kurt Godlevske grew up in Bedford, a year ahead of Bailey in school, before his family moved to Michigan after his sophomore year. Godlevske missed out on the final chapters of the story but was there when the Bailey phenomenon began.
"I used to have friends send me tapes of the games," said Godlevske. "Even after I left, it was a very important part of my life. To work with Damon now is great. He's had a huge impact on these kids."
Bailey said he's much more nervous as a coach and parent than he was as a player. In addition to Alexa; Damon and his wife, Stacey, a former BNL cheerleader, have three children, including daughter Loren, 14, who is a freshman, and son Brayton, 11, a fifth-grader.
Though Bailey sees some of the same competitive qualities in his kids that he possessed, he has made a conscious effort not to compare them to anyone else, especially himself.
"Being a parent, you tend to compare your kids to somebody else's kid or some other player," he said. "I've gotten a lot better at not doing that. I don't expect them to have the same career that I had or be the best player in the state or on their team. All three of our kids have different, God-given talents."
Bush believes it's a credit to Bailey that he never became hardened to the attention he received, or lashed out against it. When fans would rush him for autographs, he would stay until they were all signed.
"Our athletic director back then, Ray Manis, has since passed away (in 2009)," Bush said. "But he used to say, 'If there's anybody who had every reason to act like a horse's patoot, it's Damon Bailey.' It's a credit to him and his family that he never was."
Maybe it would have been easier somewhere else, where his name wasn't on the court where his daughter plays. But to hear sophomore Jenna Allen say Bailey is "like a second dad" to her, makes it seem right.
"Bedford has always been very supportive of me through years," he said. "If you handled it right, it could be a great experience. I wouldn't change anything."