With the unexpected return of both starting post players to the Baylor program, expectations will be ratcheted up for the Bears in 2014. Just 2 weeks ago, thoughts were more of the negative variety. Murmurs had been heard that Cory Jefferson would join long presumed one-and-done Isaiah Austin in the NBA draft, leaving the Bears with Rico Gathers and a lot of untested youth in the paint.
If both would have left, Coach Drew would have been left with just two guards that contributed heavily last year and one post player. This would have been a true rebuilding year, with Rico Gathers being the focal point in the paint and guards Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin as the only other rotation mainstays coming back.
Most prognosticators had raised their hopes to Jefferson coming back. Those hopes were affirmed on Thursday at 5pm in a press conference with Cory Jefferson. "Everything went into this decision - it's probably one of the biggest decisions of my life," Jefferson said. He was coming back. The likely preseason All-Big 12 post and possibly even All-American was coming back to Baylor for a 5th year.
With a probable All-Big 12 player returning, and a star to be the focal point of the offense, the Bears season was looking brighter by the day. Baylor would have a star in the paint to carry them during a transition year without a so called 5-star recruit or one-and-done candidate coming in to carry the offense. There is no Perry Jones III or Quincy Miller or Isaiah Austin in this year's class.
However, there are program type players, guys that will be around a few years to develop, similar to Cory Jefferson or Quincy Acy before him. Guys like Jonathan Motley and Dominic Woodson are players that should be in the program for a few years and be given the chance to grow into larger roles each year. With Jefferson coming back, both of those developing post players could fit into roles that would allow them time to develop their game for bigger roles.
Those roles would be defined. Jefferson would be the star and anchor of the offense and defense. Rico Gathers as the side kick and rebounding machine getting bigger minutes this year after being the first big off the bench last year, with Chad Rykhoek and Jonathan Motley being used in minor roles while they develop, and Dominic Woodson probably being the first big off the bench. Add to that a new option in Ish Wainright at the small forward position to go along with Kenny Chery joining Helsip and Franklin in the back court and the rotation was starting to form. This was going to be your next Baylor Bears; maybe not the high end potential that last year's team had, but one that would probably have a higher floor.
But then more murmurs started to rumble out of Waco. Isaiah Austin was going to come back?!?!?!?! Wait, what??? No way, couldn't be. We had been hearing all year that he was a one and done all the way. There were even "sources" screaming on some freer Baylor message boards that Isaiah had stopped going to class, and that even if he wanted to come back, he would be ineligible. This was the worst draft in years, and he would be a lottery pick. Sure, everyone agreed that he could really benefit from another year in college to get more mature and bigger, but none thought he would actually do it. But with a simple twitter message out to his 6,700+ followers that stated "Ready to bring home more than just a NIT championship next year! LETS GOOOOOO!" Austin was back.
Turns out, those lottery projections earlier in the year had been downgraded to a spot in the 20s or even later in the first round. Now we are hearing that a torn posterior labrum in one of his shoulders would require surgery and would keep him from working out for teams in preparation for the NBA draft. The injury would not be serious enough to hurt him long-term or have him miss any time of the season, but for a player that was already falling in the draft, not being able to increase his standing before the draft was just too much to overcome.
His return means that Rico Gathers will likely head back to being the third big, a role he will thrive at and more than likely outgrow next year. It means even less time for Rykhoek, Motley and Woodson on the court, but more time to develop themselves for roles. It gives the Bears one of the best and deepest frontcourts in the country, and gives them two of the best players in the Big 12 on paper. It gives the Bears a larger profile and a bigger chance at knocking off the owners of the Big 12 crown up in Kansas.
Austin is going to play another game in Baylor green and gold. So is Cory Jefferson. Two week ago, I was thinking we were done seeing both suit up for the Bears. Now, we get another year to enjoy them and watch them grow before sending them off to the professional level. Enjoy it Bear fans.