Baylor’s Drew: One of the coaching elites
HOUSTON – Shortly after his hiring at Baylor in 2003, Scott Drew began recruiting Demond “Tweety” Carter, a point guard from Louisiana who eventually became the leading scorer in high school basketball history.
“You have to have players to build an elite team,” Drew said. “And make no mistake: We want to build an elite team at Baylor.”
Never mind that the NCAA had almost given the Bears’ program the death penalty after the murder of forward Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson. Forget that the ensuing sanctions would keep Baylor from playing a non-conference schedule in the fall of 2005, or that the program – which had always been viewed as a doormat – had now become a national punch-line, too.
Drew honestly believed he could sign players like Carter – the school’s first McDonald’s All-American – and turn Baylor’s program into a national power.
People laughed at him then.
They aren’t now.
A victory over Duke at Reliant Stadium on Sunday would catapult Baylor into the Final Four for the first time since 1950. The Blue Devils may be a five-point favorite, but anyone who saw Drew’s team demolish St. Mary’s by 23 points in the Sweet 16 Friday realizes that a victory over Duke will hardly be an upset.
The Bears are bigger and faster than the Blue Devils. They boast superior athleticism and talent, and they’ll certainly have a home-court advantage in Houston, which is just three hours away from their campus in Waco.
“We feel like it’s all right there for us,” forward Anthony Jones said. “We’re not going to back down. We feel like we can play with anyone – even Duke.”
That Baylor is even being mentioned in the same company as tradition-rich schools such as Duke is almost hard to fathom. Win or lose Sunday, what the Bears already have accomplished is truly one of the more remarkable turnarounds in the history of college basketball.
And it all happened because Scott Drew believed when no one else did.
Drew never thought of the Bears as the Little Engines That Could.
With an excellent location in the heart of Central Texas, a top notch academic reputation and the resources to build first-class facilities, Drew viewed Baylor as the Little Engine That Should.
He may have been the only one.
Since its glory years (three trips to the NCAA tournament and two Final Fours) ended in 1950, the school had been through seven coaches and made just four postseason appearances – with only one being the NCAAs and all ending with a first-round loss.
Drew, however, wasn’t fazed.
“Give me one reason we can’t win here,” Drew would always say, and he operated with that mindset, too.
Drew worked tirelessly in recruiting, targeting Top 50 players – especially in-state stars – instead of signing the kind of second-rate talent Baylor had “settled” for in the past.
He beat out Texas for Curtis Jerrells and Henry Dugat and Arizona and Georgia Tech for Kevin Rogers. Two years ago those players helped lead Baylor to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1988. Then, last year, they guided the Bears to the championship game of the NIT.
With Rogers, Dugat and Jerrells all graduating, the thought was that the current season would be a rebuilding year. Baylor was picked to finish 10th in the Big 12, but instead it posted an 11-5 conference record and tied for second with Texas A&M and Kansas State.
Carter led the conference in assists, shooting guard LaceDarius Dunn ranked second in scoring with 19.4 points per game and center Ekpe Udoh, a Michigan transfer, broke the Big 12’s single-season record for blocked shots.
Other than Kentucky’s John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, there may not be a better trio in college basketball than Carter, Dunn and Udoh, who can’t help but take pride in the strides the program has made during their time.
“No one can say we don’t belong,” Carter said.
They certainly used to.
For years the word on Baylor was that it would never be competitive in the Big 12, and that the only reason the school was granted membership when the conference formed in 1996 was because then-Texas Governor Ann Richards – a Baylor alum – used her political power to make sure the Bears were included.
Since that time, Baylor has won national titles in women’s basketball and men’s tennis and its baseball and softball teams have reached the College World Series. Still, no one took the Bears seriously because of their shortcomings in football and basketball.
Even though it hasn’t reached a bowl game since 1994, the football squad appears to be in good hands with second-year coach Art Briles. It would be a mild upset if the Bears didn’t earn a bowl berth this fall.
Even if it doesn’t, Drew has proven that Baylor’s athletic program is capable of being a power in the Big 12 – and nationally, too.
Some folks still can’t believe it. For Baylor to be this good, they think there must be something shady going on behind the scenes.
Other coaches – including Texas’ Rick Barnes – have taken potshots at Drew through the media and accused him of dirty recruiting. Kansas coach Bill Self expressed displeasure two months ago when Drew pulled his team off the court during the Jayhawks’ deafening pregame video at Allen Fieldhouse. Drew said he did it because he was trying to talk to his players and that they couldn’t hear him.
It was a legitimate reason by Drew and perhaps an overreaction by Self – yet, in some ways, it was understandable. And a sign of progress.
While Drew may have earned the respect of fans both locally and nationally, he’s been an annoyance to opposing coaches, who are no doubt shocked at what Drew has been able to accomplish at a school that was slapped with NCAA sanctions – and a school that has zero basketball tradition.
For Texas, Baylor was always good for two or three wins a season. Now the Longhorns have lost four straight to the Bears and Drew, who has done just what he vowed to do when he arrived in Waco seven years ago.
Drew has turned Baylor into a national power, and he didn’t do it by out-coaching anyone.
He did it by outworking them.