James Bailey is tall. He may be the tallest person ever born in Laurens County. His height - six feet nine inches in his stocking feet - came in handy for slam-dunking basketballs, blocking jump shots, and getting stuff off the top shelf at Wal-Mart without tip-toeing.
Bailey was born in Dublin on May 21, 1957. His family moved away a short time later. James began to grow taller and taller. His height and superior athletic ability made him an outstanding high school basketball star of the Xaverian Brothers High School team of Westwood, Massachusetts. For his outstanding ability and play, James was awarded a scholarship to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
James began his career with the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers in the fall of 1975. By the fifth game, James was named as the starting center. His coach, Tom Young, noticed something special in the freshman. The Knights won their first game, and then another. When Rutgers eased past Boston College by twenty three points, sportswriters began to take notice. The Knights defeated Georgia Tech to win the school’s first Christmas holiday tournament. In each of the three games heading into the Poinsettia Classic, Rutgers scored more than 95 points in each game. By New Year’s Day, Rutgers was eleven and zero. Four opponents gave up one hundred points to Bailey’s team. In the biggest game of the year against arch rival Princeton, the Knights scored seventy five points against one of the nation’s best defensive teams. The Knights scored more than one hundred points in their last two regular season games. This was in the days when there were no three-point shots. In the post season tournament, Rutgers breezed to its second straight ECAC title and earned a bid to the NCAA tournament. With wins over Princeton, Uconn, De Paul, and VMI, the Knights made it into the final four. The Knights perfect 31 and 0 season came to end with an 86 - 70 loss to Michigan. Bailey vaulted to national prominence in his freshman season.
Just days after the end of his junior season, James was selected to play for the United States in the 1978 World Invitational Tournament, a sort of off-year Olympic tournament. He was named the starting center. The team had among its members a forward from Indiana State by the name of Larry Bird and a guard from Michigan state Earvin Johnson, who you know as "Magic." Also playing on the team were future pros, Joe Barry Carroll, Phil Ford, Jack Givens, David Greenwood, Kyle Macy, Rick Robey, and Sidney Moncrief. The USA team defeated Cuba 109-64, Yugoslavia 88 to 83 and the Soviet Union 107 to 82 to win the world crown. Bailey was third on the team in scoring with twelve points per game, more than Bird and "Magic" put together.
Bailey garnered many honors in his four year career at Rutgers. He was first team All Atlantic and a member of the All Atlantic Tournament Team in each of his last three seasons, Tournament MVP in his senior year, Atlantic Player of the Year in his last two seasons, winner of the Donald Courson Trophy as the top male athlete in the Class of 1980, and a first team All American in his last two seasons. His team won ninety five games and lost only twenty eight. The Knights were fifty and three at home.
Unfortunately for James Bailey and the game of basketball, James was never surrounded in the NBA with the talent he had playing with him at Rutgers University. Consequently, he never realized his true potential. Whether you call him, "J.B.," "King James," or "Jammin James," James Bailey, during the last half of the 1970s, was one of the most dominating centers in college basketball.