How did we get here?
St. Louis Christian Academy for one. Grand Canyon University for another.
As Champaign Central basketball standouts Bailey Dee and Tim Finke prepare to go their separate ways, Champaign high school basketball fans are scratching their heads at the roster move that ended their partnership five months ahead of schedule and asking why it came to be that one of the city's brightest basketball stars was sent packing to the Gateway to the West and the other has committed to a university that's never been to the Big Dance.
It all starts a few weeks ago, when Champaign Central basketball coach Jeff Finke made the shocking decision to leave senior standout Bailey Dee off of his roster for the 2017–18 season. Dee, the starting point guard for the Central Maroons each of the past two seasons and an all-conference honoree, seemed poised to wreak havoc across central Illinois in tandem with three-star prospect Tim Finke (Jeff Finke's son), and a deep run into the state playoffs seemed a sure thing for a talented Central squad.
When Jeff Finke named his roster and Bailey Dee wasn't on it, students and parents were confused, confounded, and outraged, leading to a demonstration at the Mellon building and attendance at the November 13th school board meeting, in which several individuals spoke favorably of Dee's talent and character and questioned what motivation Coach Finke could have for leaving him off the team. I spoke with a number of students and coaches who have interacted with Bailey Dee, and the general consensus was that he's a good kid who doesn't have academic or behavioral issues, and many consider him to be the best basketball player in the C-U area.
Why would Coach Finke cut his second-leading scorer from a year ago, a player with a penchant for bringing his best when the stakes are highest? Why wouldn't Coach Finke want a player with the talent to realistically land a scholarship and continue his education on the strength of his basketball ability on his team? What sort of issues were there between player and coach that Coach Finke would be comfortable potentially robbing Dee of his chance at higher education? Speculation abounds, and Unit 4 is asking these questions through an administrative review, the results of which won't be known for some time.
Rumors aren't going to get us anywhere, so we're sticking with facts, and the fact is that Tim Finke has committed to Grand Canyon University, which only Tim Finke saw coming. At one point a four-star recruit with offers from Power 5 schools covering his table, a rough summer of AAU ball played with a bad back saw Finke's rating drop to three stars, and with that drop, so went interest from some top-tier schools. Enter Grand Canyon University, coached by former NBA standout Dan Majerle, who did a fine job of wooing Finke, the most heralded recruit in GCU history, with great facilities, a rabid fan base, and the prospect of being the catalyst that helps GCU take the next big step into Division I relevance as they begin just their fifth season as a D-I school (they've never been to the Big Dance or the NIT).
It's still a surprising decision for a three-star recruit, especially given that other three-stars are headed to schools like Nebraska, Ohio State, Butler, Wisconsin, and Syracuse, and make no mistake: Tim Finke can play. Many pundits still have him in their top 150, so GCU looks three or four rungs lower than the 6'6" Finke could reach. We are again asking, "Why?"
As Unit 4 administration completes its investigation into Jeff Finke's decision to leave Bailey Dee off of his roster, the issue is fast becoming moot. Coach Finke is unlikely to continue to coach Central after son Tim finishes his senior year; he'll have three sons playing college hoops (Illinois, Army, and GCU). Bailey Dee, for his part, has taken his basketball and educational future out of the hands of Central coaches and Unit 4 administration and has transferred to St. Louis Christian Academy to play basketball and finish his senior year. St. Louis Christian Academy is a boarding school, so Dee will live on campus, 180 miles away from his family, to finish his senior year.
Of its investigation so far, Unit 4 has said this:
While we are saddened by some of the comments that were made in recent days, we are also appreciative of those who respectfully requested we look closely into our processes. As we wish the student at the center of this discussion well in the future, the District is still committed to doing all we can to prevent an unfortunate situation like this from developing in the future. Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to review our systems and make them better moving forward. We will certainly consider all that's been shared with us as part of this process.
Whatever comes of the investigation, damage has been done. Bailey Dee is leaving friends and family behind to salvage his shot at college basketball, and a cloud hangs over Central basketball as we're left wondering, "Why?" Rumors and speculation abound, none of which is kind to Central staff or players, and until we get to some sort of answer, Dee will be conspicuous in his absence from every Maroons game.