Indiana coach Bob Knight had every reason in the world to try to get his mind off his work before last Saturday's showdown with No. 1 Kentucky in the Indianapolis Hoosier Dome. Coming off a 75-71 season-opening loss to Butler, the 21st-ranked Hoosiers were looking at the very real possibility of their first 0-2 start since 1978-79, one of the rare seasons in which a Knight team failed to make the NCAA tournament field. After supervising a quick workout at the dome, Knight sent his players back to the hotel to pore over Kentucky tapes and scouting reports while he took his assistants and a few friends to dinner at Pa & Ma's Bar-B-Que, a small greasy-spoon diner deep in Indianapolis's inner city. Knight loves to cat ribs and on this night did so with such fervor that he barely made mention of the impending showdown with the Wildcats.
But when he got back to his hotel suite, he tortured himself by watching a film of the first 10 minutes of the Butler game. Using a pencil light to follow certain players, Knight pointed out several glaring examples of his team's lack of effort against the Bulldogs. One of the principal offenders was 6'9" junior forward Alan Henderson, who did an excellent impersonation of a zombie. "Watch Henderson now," Knight said, "because you're not going to see him tomorrow."
Almost as guilty was 6'3" senior swingman Damon Bailey, the state's folk hero, who was beginning the final season of a college career that till then had been bittersweet at best. Here was Bailev making a silly overplay on defense. Here he was again, forcing a shot. And so on. Finally Knight turned off the projector and was silent. "There's only one chance for us to win tomorrow," he finally said. "And that's for Bailey to have a great game, which he hasn't had for us very often."
The somber Indiana fans who made up about half the crowd of 38,197 at the dome the next day seemed to agree with that assessment. They sat quietly as the Kentucky faithful jeered the Hoosiers during warmups, waving an array of signs: CBS (CATS BY SIXTY)...INDIANA WHOSTERS...WHICH WAY TO BUTLER?
To everyone's surprise, however, Indiana bolted to a 9-2 lead that got the fans—Knight included—all revved up. "That's about as excited as I've been about basketball for a long time," said Knight later. "I became a fan for five or six minutes."
And, indeed, Bailey had the great game Indiana needed. He took over and led the Hoosiers to a 55-44 halftime lead. He drilled threes, took the ball to the hoop with authority and confidently brought the ball up against the withering Kentucky press. At the half Bailey had 23 points and looked as unstoppable as he had been as an Indiana high school legend. In the end he had 29 points and five assists as the Hoosiers won 96-84.
"That's the best I've ever seen Bailey play," Knight said after the game. "This is how he was supposed to be able to play. He said, 'Goddam it, we're going to play.' I'd never seen that before from him."
About this time a year ago, as he was watching the Hoosiers practice in Bloomington, Knight talked about Bailey's popularity in the state. When asked whether it was significantly greater than that of, say, Steve Alford, the Hoosier native who in 1987 led Indiana to the most recent of Knight's three NCAA titles, the coach replied, "There's no comparison. As popular as Alford was, he wasn't even close to this kid."
A lot of the credit for that—or blame, as the case may be—belongs to Knight. When Bailey was only an eighth-grader, Knight said that he was already better than any of the guards on the '85-86 Indiana team. That was typical Knight hyperbole, of course, intended to motivate his own players, but it changed Bailey's life forever. From then on the kid's every move was followed and charted by virtually the entire hoops-crazy state.
But instead of buckling under the pressure, Bailey produced a storybook high school career that was capped when he led Bedford North Lawrence to the 1990 state championship, scoring 30 points against Elkhart's Concord High in the title game, which was held before a crowd of 41,046 in the Hoosier Dome. The story continued, naturally, with Bailey's accepting Knight's scholarship offer.