On August 22, 2003 Valparaiso Head Coach Scott Drew shocked the nation by leaving after one year with Commodores and stepping into the disaster left in the wake of the Dotson-Bliss scandals. Coach Drew, however, viewed the position as a challenge, hoping to help Baylor in one of the most formidable rebuilding projects in NCAA history.
Drew’s career with Baylor began as expected, finishing with an 8-21 record and 11th place in the Big 12. The following season (2004-05) saw the team win one more game, but it was the 2005-06 season in which the Bears made history. Unfortunately, it was for all of the wrong reasons. Due to NCAA imposed sanctions, the Baylor Bears became the first team in NCAA college basketball history to not play a non-conference schedule.
Next season, however, things began to look up. The Bears entered the 2006-07 Big 12 Tournament as the No. 11 seed. Shocking the conference, the Bears beat the No. 6-seeded Missouri Tigers 97-83, for the team’s first Big 12 Tournament win since 2001. Now Baylor-legends Curtis Jerrells and Henry Dugat scored 31 and 25 points respectively; marking a sign of what the future held for the program.
While the end of the 2006-07 season can be seen as a rousing success, given the context of the program, the 2007-08 saw even more situations that gave Baylor fans something to cheer about. The Bears debuted at No. 25 in the AP Poll in January of 2008 and earned the first back-to-back AP ranking in school history during this time. An even more noteworthy event came on the night of January 23, 2008, when the Bears traveled down to College Station to face rival No. 18 Texas A&M. While the game may have begun normally, in no way did it end so. The matchup between the Bears and the Aggies became the longest game in Big 12 history, taking over 5 overtime periods before a winner was declared, with the Bears securing a victory 116-110. The 2007-08 season also saw the Bears reach their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years, earning a No. 11 seed in the West Regional. In the end, though, the “Cinderella Season” came to an end after a first-round loss to No. 6 seed Purdue.
Coach Drew earned the honor of being called, by one media outlet, the Big 12’s “Coach on the Rise” prior to the 2008-09 season. The preseason conference coaches poll predicted the Bears to finish fourth in the conference. By December of 2008, the Bears had made their debut in the USA Today Coaches Poll and their season debut in the AP poll, both of which lasted a school-record seven weeks. The season of firsts continued, with Coach Drew directing his team for a school-record 34 of 39 games on television, including 18 on the ESPN family of networks.
The success of the 2008-09 season ended with a second-straight 20-win season and the Bears’ first appearance in the Big 12 Tournament Championship game, which they eventually lost to Missouri 73-60. Coach Drew and company earned his squad’s first NIT birth, reaching the championship game before falling to Penn State.
While several prominent players left the team after the 2008-09 season, a Michigan transfer named Ekpe Udoh more than made up for the loss. Soon to be known as “The Nightmare,” Udoh sank three game-winning shots during the 2009-10 season, all the while acting as the defensive anchor of the team, helping result in a triple double stat-line of 18 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 blocks against Morgan State.
Baylor fans both fondly and bitterly remember the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Baylor earned its first tournament win in 60 years after defeating Sam Houston State 68-59 in the opening round, behind 20 points and 13 rebounds from Udoh. The second round matchup against Old Dominion resulted in a 76-68 victory for the Bears, propelling them to the school’s first modern Sweet Sixteen, with a matchup against No. 10 seed Saint Mary’s. The Bears easily defeated the Gaels, 72-49, and made their way to the Elite Eight. Situated in Houston, Texas, the Baylor fans made their presence known in the most exciting season of Baylor Basketball by filling Reliant Stadium for the matchup against the No. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils. While Duke would eventually go on to win the National Championship, the end of the Elite Eight matchup is marred by a terrible block/charge call on Quincy Acy, which, to this day, incites reaction from fans and players-alike. Following the magical run to the Elite Eight, Ekpe Udoh became Baylor’s first lottery pick in NBA Draft history, after being selected by the Golden State Warriors at No. 6.
Excitement surrounding the team was high for the 2010-11 season, especially with the return of senior scoring-phenom Lacedarius Dunn, who would eventually go on to be the Big 12’s all-time leading scorer, and the addition of five-star recruit Perry Jones III. The season, however, did not live up to expectations, as the Bears faltered after a 9-0 start to the season, finishing 18-13 overall and not earning any type of postseason birth. Much to the chagrin of Baylor fans, Perry Jones III was suspended by the NCAA for six games right before the start of the Big 12 Tournament.
Jones’ suspension carried over into the 2011-12 season, but the frontcourt was bolstered by the addition of five-star prospect Quincy Miller and the continued excellent play of Acy. The backcourt, meanwhile, saw a drastic makeover with junior college point guard Pierre Jackson taking control of the team halfway through the season and the play of Boston-college transfer Brady Heslip, who was a sniper from behind the three-point line. While the conference season was not as fruitful as hoped, the Bears nonetheless finished in third place in the Big 12 and made it again to the Big 12 Tournament championship game, before eventually falling to Missouri in its final year in the Big 12. The NCAA Tournament, meanwhile, saw great success again. Heslip’s nine treys helped lift the Bears over Colorado and gave the Bears a berth in the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in three years. After finishing off Xavier, the Bears eventually fell to the Anthony Davis-led Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight. Following this season, the Bears lost its frontcourt depth, with Acy, Jones, and Miller all headed to the NBA Draft.
The good news, though, was that perennial backup Cory Jefferson was ready to step into the leading role, along with another five-star big man Isaiah Austin. The 2012-13 continued the trend of failing to make the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons, as the Bears wound up in the NIT. They did, however, win the NIT after demolishing the Iowa Hawkeyes in the final, marking Baylor’s first national tournament championship in program history.
This most recent season, 2013-14, began just as promising, with the Bears starting hot. An injury to newly-starting point guard Kenny Chery hampered the team during the middle of the season, however, but the team was able to recover and eventually finished with a 9-9 conference record, before falling to the Iowa State Cyclones in the Big 12 Tournament championship game. The NCAA Tournament success continued, however, as Coach Drew led the team all the way to the Sweet Sixteen, marking the programs third Sweet Sixteen in five years. In June of 2014 both Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin entered the NBA Draft, but news soon reached Austin that his basketball career would prematurely end, thanks to a recent Marfan Syndrome diagnosis. The Brooklyn Nets with the 60th pick, meanwhile, selected Jefferson.
A lot of question marks surround the Bears for this upcoming season, but we will just have to wait and see what chapter Scott Drew adds to the history of Baylor Basketball. The Bears open the season tomorrow, Friday, November 14 against McNeese State.