By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – The circle of basketball life will complete another circuit on Saturday afternoon.
Exactly 31 years ago, which does not seem possible, Bedford North Lawrence basketball was at its zenith, locked in legendary battles with the most worthy foe. Two Mr. Basketballs dueled, once in the regular season and once during an epic regional battle in Seymour. Now, the next generation of the Bailey-Graham clashes will take place.
Damon Bailey, BNL’s favorite son and 1990 Mr. Basketball, and Pat Graham, Floyd Central’s 1989 Mr. Basketball, will be eternally linked, in part because of the two classic confrontations during the 1988-89 season, in part because they became teammates at Indiana University.
The sons will take center stage at BNL Fieldhouse when Evansville Memorial (4-12) makes its first visit. Memorial features senior Cade Graham and sophomore brother Jace, while the Stars (11-8) are led by senior Brayton Bailey.
In no way can this meeting come close to the standard set by the famous fathers. Floyd Central won the regular-season war 67-65 at Floyd, then edged the Stars 76-72 in overtime in the regional opener. The images – Graham twirling around screens to launch that deadly jumper, twisting in midair to square and launch, while Bailey scored 37 points despite a broken finger on his left hand – are everlasting for the basketball junkies. The Highlanders went on to the state finals. BNL would win the state championship the next season.
Fast forward back to present day. Bailey the Younger and the Stars are hot with four straight wins, with Bailey playing magnificently while leading BNL in scoring, rebounding and assists. Cade Graham is averaging 17.3 points for the Tigers, with Jace running the offense as the point guard. Neither should be measured against their fathers.
“They are different kinds of players,” Memorial coach Rick Wilgus said. “We rely on Cade (a 6-2 guard) to score, Jace for ballhandling and defense. Since they came into our program, I have had the goal to keep from the father-son comparison, mainly because we are dealing with different eras of players. Players today are different than past players.”
Memorial has struggled of late, losing four of its last five. In addition to Graham, they also feature junior Justin Waiz (12.9 points) and senior Connor Quick.
“Cade is a nice player,” BNL coach Jeff Hein said. “He’s an inside-out kid who will post up, then step out to shoot over the top. Obviously he’s their main guy, and he’s stepped into that role, with defenses focusing on him, and still averaging 18.”
BNL’s concern is maintaining momentum and sharpness. The Stars have matched their longest winning streak of the season.
“It’d be nice to keep playing the way we’re playing,” Hein said. “We need to protect our home turf, be difficult to beat at home. We have two games left here, and we really need to take both of those.”
As far as a renewal of the Damon-Pat shootouts? Perhaps, 30 years later, in a game of horse. Wilgus indicated there would be far more that do not remember the dads. That’s certainly arguable. But for this day, it’s a chance to revisit the past and see the present.
EVANSVILLE MEMORIAL at BNL
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Records: Memorial 4-12; BNL 11-8
Sagarin ratings: Memorial 55.05; BNL 77.07
Last meeting: BNL conquered Memorial 59-51 in the 1987 semistate final in Evansville.
Game notes: Memorial coach Rick Wilgus owns 422 career wins in 38 seasons, ranking 20th on the list of active coaches. The Tigers are allowing 68.6 points per game.
Bedford NL Stars
F – Jackson Miracle 6-4 Jr.
F – Ben Cosner 6-3 Jr.
G – Kooper Staley 6-0 Jr.
G – Brayton Bailey 6-2 Sr.
G – Colten Leach 6-0 Fr.
Evansville Memorial Tigers
F – Justin Waiz 6-0 Jr.
F – Connor Quick 6-4 Sr.
G – Cade Graham 6-2 Sr.
G – Jace Graham 6-0 So.
G – Mason Auker 6-0 Sr.