Evan Bailey was only an eighth-grader when Jackson basketball made its memorable run through the postseason tournament and won the Division I state title in 2010.
Bailey was one year away from being a part of that team — he’s now been a four-year varsity player and three-year starter — so he wasn’t on the floor as the Polar Bears celebrated a state championship.
But he was in the stands (he attended nearly every game in that postseason run with his dad).
And he still has the ticket stub from the state title game on his bedroom wall. Now a senior, he’s kept it as a constant reminder of what he, and the Polar Bears, can accomplish.
“It showed Jackson can do it,” Bailey said. “It’d just be awesome, everything I want to do. It’d mean so much to me.”
After all, he didn’t get to take part in raising Jackson’s state championship banner, even though he was already close to the varsity team.
“I worked out with them in the offseason a lot, played with the guys. It was just awesome for them,” Bailey said. “It was cool to watch them have success like that.”
Bailey has already enjoyed a storied career. He has led the Polar Bears to two Federal league titles and has twice been named third-team All-Ohio in Division I. He’s averaged at least 18 points a game the past two seasons and is averaging 19 points and seven rebounds this year (Jackson is currently 8-2, 5-2 in the Federal League).
But still missing is a district title and a run to the state tournament in Columbus.
“[The 2010 team] showed that a team like ours that doesn’t have a superstar can go win a state championship,” he said. “It’d be a hard thing to follow up. But it’s always our main goal.”
Bailey, a College of Charleston commit who also had a scholarship offer from Kent State, among others, doesn’t view himself as head and shoulders above his competition, even though he often is head and shoulders taller as a dangerous 6-foot-6 shooting guard who can shoot from anywhere.
Bailey recently surpassed 1,000 career points — only the fourth player in Jackson history to do so — and was presented with a game ball before the Polar Bears played North Canton Hoover on Dec. 20. But he never really smiled during the ceremony and when asked about what the milestone meant to him, he quickly pointed out that Jackson lost to Canton McKinley in the game in which he reached the milestone.
“I was happy about it but I didn’t like how it was all about me,” he said. “I didn’t like how the spotlight was on me.”
Bailey’s been one to put much of his work in at practice, away from the fans and lights and cameras, according to Jackson coach Tim Debevec.
“He’s the last one out of the gym every day and pretty much always the first one in,” Debevec said. “The younger kids look up to him. He’s a captain and we’ve got two freshmen playing varsity, they look up to him.”
Leading the way
Debevec believes Bailey has the ability to lead the Polar Bears as far as they’ve ventured into the state tournament since winning it all in 2010. Jackson beat Pickerington Central, one of the better teams in the state, and cruised past Hoover earlier this season but recently lost a dogfight to Lake 58-56 in what will be a continual showdown this season.
The potential is there for Jackson to battle for the Federal League and then a district title. Point guard Kyle Mottice and forward Mitch Pugh add scoring punch with Bailey leading the way.
“[Bailey] is capable of doing that for us,” Debevec said. “I think we’re one of the teams capable of getting to the state tournament, one of six or seven teams capable in the Northeast District. There’s not a Division I team that’s dominant.”
For Bailey, it all goes back to the practice gym, the ticket stub on his wall and his chance to make an impression on Jackson basketball.
“That’s how I’ve always been,” he said. “I just want to work as hard as I can. That’s what everybody’s done around me so I just want to follow in their footsteps.”