Baylor men's basketball feeds off success of school's other sports programs

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 | 9:22 p.m. CST; updated 1:16 a.m. CST, Thursday, January 19, 2012
Baylor men's basketball coach Scott Drew has had a lot of success to point to after taking over a program mired in scandal.

Ten years ago, Baylor sports teams were the butt of jokes.

The Bears football team went 3-9 in 2002 and hadn't made a bowl game since 1994. That same season, the men's basketball team finished its season 14-16 and hadn't made the NCAA tournament since 1988.

In 2003, scandal hit the basketball program when a player was charged with the murder of a teammate.

"Our two most visible sports had some lean years," Baylor Assistant Athletics Director Heath Nielsen said.

But right now, miraculously, the Bears are on top of the college sports world.

The football team went 10-3 this season and beat Washington in the Alamo Bowl. Quarterback Robert Griffin III became the first Baylor player to win a Heisman Trophy, and he is now expected to be a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The Baylor men's basketball team, which hosts No. 5 Missouri on Saturday, is 17-1 and ranked No. 3 in this week's rankings.

Even the school's less visible sports are doing well. The No. 1 Baylor women's basketball team is undefeated and the favorite to win a national championship this season. The men's tennis team is ranked No. 5, and the women's tennis team is ranked No. 7.

"We've had an unprecedented surge of pride and school spirit from fans who were the brunt of jokes," Nielsen said.

But even Nielsen doesn't know what's "in the water" in Waco.

"Obviously if we could bottle this we'd have the secret on our hands," he said. "Our athletics director (Ian McCaw) deserves a lot of credit and praise. We've got a lot of great coaches that are really committed."

One of those coaches finding success is Baylor men's basketball coach Scott Drew, who took over the program in the wake of the 2003 scandal.

Drew has been able to recruit several athletes to Baylor, including center Ekpe Udoh, who now plays in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors. This season, he has forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller, who are both expected to be picked in the first round of this year's NBA draft. 

He says he thinks the Baylor teams feed off each other's success.

“I think everybody feeds off each other," Drew said in a December teleconference. "You go to a football game and you see a packed house and you win, and you want to go out the next night and keep that momentum going."

The success started with Baylor's men's tennis team winning a national championship in 2004 and the women's basketball team winning a national title in 2005. The men's basketball team got back to the NCAA Tournament in 2008, and the football team got back to a bowl game in 2010.

Drew thinks buildup has worked for fans as well.

"They’re just amped up and that much more excited when they go from one sport winning to another sport winning," he said.

The fans will turn out in bunches to watch Baylor face Missouri on Saturday in a battle of top-five teams in Waco. The winner of the game will take sole-possession of second place in the Big 12 behind Kansas.

Drew said he is concerned about Missouri's speed and being able to keep the Tigers from shooting three-pointers. But Missouri will be challenged by Baylor's height. The Bears have five forwards who are 6 feet, 7 inches or taller, while Missouri has just two. 

"He's brought some studs in here," Nielsen said about Drew.



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Louis Schneebaum January 18, 2012 | 10:08 p.m.

If I had to live in Waco, I'd go wacko as well.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 19, 2012 | 5:01 a.m.

@ Louis:

As you no doubt know, Baylor has been the only private institution in the Big 12. A similar situation exists in the Big 10 conference with Northwestern, but, trust me, Baylor ain't no Northwestern! Baylor was founded by and is operated by Southern Baptists.

I've driven through (notice that I said "through") Waco on I-35 many times. It's a good place to exit the Interstate and fill up your gas tank!

Compared to the sprawling monster here in Columbia, the Baylor campus isn't all that large.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum January 30, 2012 | 10:20 a.m.

I made a pledge last year, never to drive through TX again!

(Report Comment)

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