Wave of talented young Lions includes a blast from the past

By Maurice Patton

Genetics aren’t always as simple as some would like to make them.

“Roni got his first dunk in our walkthrough in December, as a junior. I’d say his dad probably had his first dunk as an eighth-grader,” Columbia Central boys basketball coach Nick Campbell said regarding Lions guard Roni Bailey.

The elder Bailey – “Big Roni” in Campbell’s cell phone — starred at Central during the early 1990s, graduating in 1992 as a rare TSSAA State Tournament Most Valuable Player in an appearance that fell short of a Class AAA title, and went on to play collegiately at Middle Tennessee State (recording that program’s only triple-double) and professionally for six seasons.

Standing six inches shorter than his dad at 5-11, “Little Roni” isn’t as physically imposing, nor quite as explosive, but is an asset for the Lions as they approach postseason play.

“It’s been hard, I’m not going to lie, some of the expectations that people wanted me to do,” the younger Bailey said. “The first thing people ask when they see me – ‘Oh, you’re Roni Bailey’s son, you must can dunk’. I can dunk every now and then, but I’m not going to go out there and do a windmill.

“He said he was dunking in eighth grade. I didn’t get his growth spurt. I can’t do anything about that. But I give it 100 percent every time I’m on the court. I just want to be able to be a leader on the team … be a true point guard.”

Being a key contributor on a Central squad that locked up the District 8-AAA regular-season title, the No. 1 seed for the district tournament and an automatic berth in the Region 4-AAA tournament brings a smile to his dad’s face.

“It’s exciting. It’s good,” the elder Bailey said. “Like I tell him, you’re going to hear my name a lot, playing at Central. (But) you’ve got to make a name for yourself. You can’t try to live up to what everybody says about your daddy. Just play your game and be yourself.”

Even as Dad tries to relieve some of the perceived pressure, it was important for both that Son walk the same path – important enough that, after playing middle school ball at E.A. Cox, the family moved into the Columbia Central zone prior to his freshman year.

“I wouldn’t want him to go anywhere else but here,” Big Roni said. “At the time, we were zoned to Spring Hill. It was important to me that he come and be a Lion. He wanted to fallow in the footsteps, live up to the tradition and the name, and make a name for himself, do good for himself, not just be ‘Roni’s son’.”

At 19-6, Columbia Central takes a nine-game winning streak into Wednesday’s district tourney semifinals against Tullahoma. Bailey, part of the team’s loaded junior class, hopes to help elevate the Lions to heights rarely seen since his dad’s days.

“He doesn’t put a lot of pressure on himself with that,” Campbell said of the youngster’s lineage. “He just puts a lot of pressure on himself to be good. He’s really matured a lot this year, from his freshman year and even from last year. He’s probably one of the more vocal leaders on our team.

“He shoots it well, gets to the rim. His court vision is as good as any high school player I’ve ever seen. He really has a great feel for the game. His basketball IQ is high. His court awareness is really, really good for a high school player.”

That’s a skillset that will translate, regardless of physical stature. And while Little Roni may not have gotten his father’s leaping ability, it’s clear there are some attributes that were passed down.

“I see (in him) the fire I had, the love for the game. I see him wanting to do good,” Big Roni said. “He’s a team player, committed to the whole team – not just himself, scoring. I see a lot of fire and heart for the game.

“That means everything to me.”

Photos by Ric Beu and Buffy Holt / SM-Tn Sports

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