I saiah Bailey enters competition with a warning label.
He attacks with the subtlety of a forearm to the forehead, charging through and around defenses. As the Jesuit Marauders get ready for the Sac-Joaquin Section basketball playoffs, you can understand whose game they will hitch their wagon to.
The defending Division I champions return one mainstay in Bailey, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior guard who has handled the burden of expectations well.
“He’s an offensive machine,” Jesuit coach Greg Harcos said. “Isaiah’s carried us. He’s made big plays when things are on the line. The most amazing thing is, everyone knows he’s going to get the ball, and he still does what he does.”
What he does is zero in on the rim. Bailey is deceptively quick on the baseline when he chooses not to muscle his way to the basket. Bailey might just be the section’s most dynamic scorer – he can hit from every area of the court – a conversation that also includes Cordova guard Jordan Roberson and Liberty Ranch forward DeAndre Stallings.
One thing is certain. In the storied history of Jesuit basketball, Bailey’s 25-point average puts him in the same sentence as the Marauders’ all-time prolific scorers. Harcos will call his number again Wednesday when the Marauders open the playoffs at home against Granite Bay. A win there – and Jesuit takes no foe lightly – likely means a Friday night visit to powerhouse Folsom.
“You ride a horse to get to the playoffs sometimes, and then you ride him all the way through,” Harcos said. “Isaiah’s the guy who may make or break us. That’s no secret. We put a lot on his shoulders, and he’s done it at a high level. For some kids, that can be a lot to swallow. Not Isaiah. Great kid, great competitor.”
Bailey braces for all of it, and he invites the challenge of leading Jesuit’s playoff charge.
“I’m excited and anxious,” said Bailey, who is thoughtful and reflective. “It’s been a fun season, but there’s been adjustments. I’m more aware that teams are throwing everything at me. I know I can’t force things, and I’ve learned that. Sometimes, coaches have practice drills where it was our five against seven, and that makes you get the ball out quick, to move the ball. I’m having a good year, but I’m still learning.”
Teams are still scheming ways to slow down Bailey. In games lasting 32 minutes, in which Bailey plays nearly every play, he has scored 40, 38, 38, 37 and 37 points.
“He’s a lot like Adrian Dantley,” Pleasant Grove coach Dwayne Smith said in reference to the Hall of Fame swingman who could score from inside and out. “Bailey’s difficult to deal with – a load.”
Some of Bailey’s early basketball lessons were humbling. He had to taste failure before he could savor any sense of dominance. His father, Stacy, coached him, having played at Berkeley High and Texas Tech. Bailey’s mother, Molly, also played college ball at Idaho.
“From kindergarten on up, I was a point guard for my dad,” Bailey said. “I’d have the ball stolen from me 20 times a game, and I’d cry. But I got better. When I was in the fifth grade, I was playing in my own age group, and I was stronger and bigger, and I made it through OK. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dad and mom pushing me to be better.”
Still, Bailey never expected to land at Jesuit. His dream was to attend Grant, to play ball with his buddies.
“I didn’t want to go to Jesuit at first,” Bailey said. “I’m so glad I did. I’m proud of all the relationships and bonds I’ve made. And I’ve grown.”
Bailey matured, evolving from free spirit who liked to hot dog in games to a leader who coaches up his younger teammates.
“I had bumps in the road here early,” said Bailey, who continues to field Division II college basketball recruiting interest. “I had really obvious, bad body language, and that kind of attitude can spread and kill a team. My coaches did a great job of working with me and telling me that if I wanted to be a success, I needed to lead by example, to do it with pride.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.