Imani Bailey certainly saved the best for last as a basketball player at Howard University.
The Laurel resident has played for three different head coaches with the Bison and overcame a hip injury as a sophomore to become one of the top scorers this season as a senior for Howard, a Division I program in the nation's capital.
"It was kind of hard. I had three coaches in high school. It is hard to deal with it but I will get through it," she said.
After missing the first part of this season due to personal reasons, the Meade High graduate averaged 16.8 points per contest in her first 11 games this year as a 5-foot-7 guard. Howard will play in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament that begins Monday, March 7 in Norfolk, Virginia.
"My teammates helped me get back to where I was. They helped me build my character and come back stronger," Bailey said.
She was honored on Senior Night on Feb. 24 at Howard before a game against Florida A & M in MEAC play.
"Bittersweet. I have been doing basketball since I was 6. Now it is time for the real world," said Bailey, after scoring a team-high 15 points with five rebounds in a home loss 65-63 to South Carolina State as Howard fell to 5-21 overall on Feb. 22.
She had a career-high 37 points in a 110-108 double overtime loss at home against Norfolk State on Feb. 6.
"I really didn't know I had that many," said Bailey, who added she has improved coming off of screens and driving to the basket. "I am getting to the basket more this year."
Norfolk State assistant coach Lou Hamilton was impressed with Bailey.
"She is a really good shooter. She is very active running the baseline," Hamilton said. "She is really good at catching and shooting, which she has really developed the last couple of seasons. She has developed and gotten better each year."
Bailey grew up playing basketball and soccer with the Laurel Boys and Girls Club. Bailey originally committed to play in college at La Salle, a Division I member of the Atlantic 10 Conference. She had a change of heart and decided to attend Howard.
Bailey, as a freshman, played in 30 games with one start and averaged 15.6 minutes and 3.3 points per contest who a team that went 20-11 overall and lost in the MEAC title contest.
But after the season head coach Niki Reid Geckeler left to become the head coach at Towson University.
Bailey played in just seven games as a sophomore and averaged 19.6 minutes and 4.0 points per game as the Bison slipped to 11-20 overall under new coach Tennille Adams.
"I tried to come back in December (2013) from hip surgery. I came back too fast and it was painful," she said.
Last season as a junior Bailey played in 30 games with 29 starts and averaged 31.7 minutes and 8.3 points per game with 98 assists.
Howard was 4-27 overall and Adams was replaced after the season by Ty Grace, who had been at Division II University of New Haven.
"Imani has definitely taken the job of being a scorer for us," Grace wrote in an e-mail. "She is a talented player, who makes people around her better with her crafty play and her ability to pass the ball. She has stepped up in our conference games and has hit some big shots. We do rely on her to put points on the board."
Bailey is slated to graduate this spring with a degree in human development and hopes to begin a two-year nursing program. "I would like to move to Atlanta and do neonatal nursing," she said.
Even after Geckeler left for Towson, Bailey stayed the course at Howard. "I wanted to stay here because of the academics and student life. I like it here. Campus life is good," she said.
Coutreyer at Howard
The associate head coach for the Howard men's team is Keith Coutreyer, a former Laurel High coach and teacher. Howard will compete in the MEAC tourney that begins March 7 in Norfolk.
Laurel High graduate Damian Pitts, who played at Goucher, just finished his 15th season as an assistant coach at Division II Millersville in Pennsylvania.
Padgett shines at GMU
Pallotti graduate Tiffany Padgett started the first 27 games this season for the women's basketball team at George Mason. She was averaging 8.0 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. The Patriots take part in the Atlantic 10 tournament that began March 2 in Richmond, Virginia and runs through March 6.
Bailey played at Meade High with Laurel residents Jamie McKeither and Raven Makins, who were top scoring seniors for the Division II Nyack program in New York this season.