By Karen Kelly
Photos by Valerie Wutti, Blitzen Photography

MBB v Wilfrid Laurier Q-Final - Elliot Bailey

True to his English roots, Elliot Bailey’s first love growing up was football (a.k.a. soccer). But as he hit his teens, his future in athletics took a sharp turn. 

“I was playing football and suddenly the ball was so far away from me and I thought, I’m not going to do this anymore,” recalls Bailey, who is 6-foot-7.  “Meanwhile, the basketball hoop was getting closer.” 

There weren’t many high school basketball teams back home, so Bailey enrolled in a basketball academy that employs a training regimen for English players. Very few make it to North America, but Bailey had a connection: his coach knew Dave Smart, Carleton’s director of basketball operations, who could see Bailey’s potential. 

MBB v Wilfrid Laurier Q-Final Elliot Bailey

MBB v Wilfrid Laurier Q-Final. Photo: Valerie Wutti, Blitzen Photography

Bailey was recruited to Carleton as a forward in 2018, when Smart was still head coach. He was stunned by the level of play he witnessed. 

“The team we had my first year could be the most talented team ever in Canadian basketball,” says Bailey, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. “In terms of basketball, I had no idea what I was stepping into. It was just an unreal environment and I was just not good enough to be part of it, to be honest.” 

Bailey didn’t give up: he worked with the team six days a week, 10 months out of the year. It helped that he was learning from the best. 

“Our practices are very competitive and I was competing with some of the best players in Canada. They were really good at showing me how to get better,” he recalls. “For instance, they insisted that everyone on the team should be making 80 out of 100 three-pointers daily. I couldn’t even picture myself doing that, so I would shoot 1,000 three-pointers a day until I could do it.” 

Bailey joined the starting lineup this season, scoring 126 points for the championship team. The season had its ups and downs, but he left it all on the floor during the championship game against St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. 

“All you have to do in basketball is get into your head and you just tighten up a little bit and start missing shots,” says Bailey, who scored 21 points in the double-overtime game. “But with St. FX, it was do or die. We were behind, so I thought I may as well keep shooting; the hesitation factor was gone.” 

Carleton won that game in double overtime, 109-104. Bailey still seems surprised that a guy from small-town England could end up on such a renowned team. 

I was very fortunate to have received the opportunity to play for a program that has had such historic success,” wrote Bailey in a follow-up email. “Playing for coaches who had the knowledge they possess but also to learn from their rare mentalities was something that someone from my background should probably have never witnessed. I am not from an athletic family nor do I come from a town that has much culture of elite basketball, or sport for that matter. So, I have to credit and thank Jesse Sazant, my high school coach, and Dave Smart and Taffe Charles for allowing me to be a part of something so unique. It is not necessarily the wins that are important but it is really the experience of working towards a great, collective goal every single day that I value and has shaped my life – the different kinds of people that I’ve met, the relationships that I’ve made, the knowledge that I’ve gained, and the stories that I’ve kept.”  

In the near future, Bailey is hanging up his Carleton uniform and considering a return to England to pursue a master’s degree in foreign policy. He will once again be surrounded by football fans. But he’ll know — even if they don’t — that he was once a university basketball star.  

Friday, April 21, 2023 in ,
Share: Twitter, Facebook