Bailey Harris was nervous to go to St. Mary’s.
She considered opportunities to play basketball at Good Counsel and St. Frances Academy. But St. Mary’s, a school of about 500 that operates mostly in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conferences, was five minutes from her house. Her brothers, Connor and Aidan, went there.
On the other hand, the previous winter’s record wasn’t so great; the school was small. Her AAU teammates often hadn’t heard of it when she mentioned it. And, almost immediately, she fell in love — with her teammates, her coaches and the possibility.
“I think that was the biggest part,” Harris said. “Being able to change the program.”
Harris is already manifesting her hopes into reality. She’s averaging 20.1 points per game for the 21-0 Saints through Wednesday, having already scored 25 or more points seven times. The freshman guard is also the team’s assist leader.
In the past, the St. Mary’s coach harbored worries that he’d lose her, as well as freshman Alexandra Vandiver (14.1 ppg). But when coach Chuck Miller saw how well they took to their teammates, his worries melted and congealed into daily joy. Harris and her fellow freshman Vandiver quickly became the happy catalysts that transformed the Saints from a relatively competitive team to a serious, unquestionable contender. And for Harris, the coach said, it matters not whether she’s scoring one point or the two-dozen-plus she’s regularly accustomed to.
“She’s the best player out there,” Miller said.
Harris’ performance has already impressed college programs, as she said she’s received interest from Maryland and Delaware. .
“It’s kind of surreal. I try not to think about the hype,” Harris said. “I love it, but it’s the team, too. I love my team so much, I don’t care about the points or anything. I mean, they’re the ones who give me the points.”
Harris began to feel the heat of hype from outsiders pretty immediately — but not for her team. Despite their ongoing undefeated mark, Harris absorbed plenty of opinions that her Saints hadn’t faced enough tough competition yet to be taken seriously.
That is until they beat St. Timothy’s, 62-52, on Jan. 17. Harris notched 31 points and nine rebounds. When the final buzzer sounded, the freshman finally felt like the general public shed the right level of respect on her squad. But, she said, there’s still more to come — a championship, for instance.
Harris squared off with La Salle commit Aryss Macktoon, whom she considers the best player she’s ever played labeling her, “stronger, faster, more athletic.”
“I think a lot of the time, I can just use my speed to get past them,” Harris said. “But this time, I had to use the moves I work on with my brothers.”
Harris first picked up a basketball at age 6. She wanted to join her older brothers in the gym; she wanted to beat them. Once she did, that thirst transferred to any boy she could beat, so she played amongst them.
The confidence that emanates from her now is borne of all that training. She may be 15-years-old playing with athletes on the verge of college, but she knows what she’s capable of.
Harris draws her power from her agility. She’s not only quick, but shifty, too. En route to the basket, the freshman winds like a serpent, switching directions. Intensity drives her offense and defense. Miller praises Harris’ “superior” basketball IQ and her pure instinct on the court.
God gave her height, Harris said. But the rest? The rest she toils tirelessly to improve in the gym.
Miller witnesses her nonstop nature even in practice. There is no going through the motions for his rookie, who plays every minute as if a real clock were running. On days without practice, Harris asks her coach to get into the gym and fire up the ball-shooting machine.
“She’s just a one-of-a-kind player,” Miller said.
One obstacle Harris finds herself sometimes having to overcome is complacency. She encountered that struggle just before Christmas, when the Saints routed South River through two-and-a-half quarters. The Seahawks, who were then unbeaten, were far from a slouch. They proved as much when they surged back, shrinking a 26-point lead to as small as six in the fourth. Harris stymied the South River scoring late with her own offense.
“I have to work on not letting myself get tired mentally,” Harris said, “especially if we’re blowing out a team. To keep playing hard.”
The major Division I programs that eye her now serve as that kind of motivation, too. Harris practices endurance with her own abilities because she knows just because those programs are treating her nicely now, that it can all go away should she falter.
“I have to keep working because I can’t just stay at the pace I am now,” the freshman said. “I need to get a lot better to play with them. That’s why playing against [Macktoon] was awesome, it was literally preparing me for playing with Division I players.”
Sometimes Miller forgets his spitfire freshman is just that, a high school freshman. In a competitive 46-39 game with Concordia Prep — a game Miller dubbed “what may be the biggest game we’ve had at St. Mary’s in many years” — the Saints were a little off in their shooting, despite their win.
When Miller spoke to Harris later, her response reminded him of her youth. She was jittery against a big crowd, she told her coach.
“We expect so much because we’ve seen so much that we forget to realize they’re 14-, 15-year-old girls playing against 17-, 18-year-old girls,” Miller said. “They make you forget that. Bailey’s a leader. She’s amazing.”
But for all the spotlight Harris attracts, the young Saint sheds it all away. The reason she can handle these bigger games, Miller said, is because of her even keel. She wants her teammates to harvest as much, if not more, success than her. She does not feel the burden on her back.
“For a girl who gets a lot of compliments from a lot of people much more important than I am, she’s grounded,” Miller said. “She’s just a really good kid. I marvel at her.”