With the program’s first back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament now in the books, Bears Illustrated takes one final look at the 2014-15 season with a positional recap.
Thanks to masterful recruiting by the coaching staff, Bears fans have grown used to seeing a veteran JuCo player at the point guard position over the last handful of seasons. Kenny Chery, a senior, returned from a solid campaign his first year in the green and gold ready to lead Baylor back to the postseason. Remaining remarkably consistent over both years in every major statistical category, despite playing 128 minutes less this most recent season, Chery anchored a youthful backcourt with his senior leadership. Posting the Big 12’s highest free throw percentage of the 2014-15 season (87.9%), Chery’s presence on the court helped lead the Bears to their first season sweep of the Iowa State Cyclones, including the go-ahead basket in the final seconds of the first matchup with his dagger of a midrange jumper.
Joining Chery in the backcourt, Lester Medford, another JuCo transfer, stepped up to the challenge of filling the hole left in the guard rotation with the departure of Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin the year before. While finishing around 39% from beyond the arc, Medford became a reliable shooter for a Baylor offense that relied heavily on perimeter shooting, with the team averaging 40.3% during conference play. The growth of Medford’s paly during the season cannot be understated, however. Thrust into the primary guard position with an injury to Kenny Chery in the Las Vegas Invitational, Medford struggled to command an offense that only managed 54 points; but by the time of the Big 12 Tournament and Baylor’s first game against WVU, Medford helped lead his team to a three game season sweep of the Mountaineers with his play around the rim.
After suffering from a preseason wrist injury at the beginning of the 2013-14 season and a resulting redshirt, Allerick (Al) Freeman took to the court as a reserve guard for the Bears. The former-UCLA signee worked his way higher into the rotation as the season progressed, clocking valuable in-game experience with 17.1 minutes per contest and providing a sometimes stagnant offense with a burst of two-point scoring.
To bolster the depth of the guard position, Scott Drew and company welcomed another transfer, Austin Mills, from Beverly Hills, CA. Hailing from Pepperdine, Mills’ largest in-game performance came at Hilton Coliseum, with the transfer guard hitting the first of what would become a string of three point shots to lead Baylor to its first win in Iowa State’s arena.
Royce O’Neale: 10.1 ppg, 5.8 rbg, 3.4 apg Taurean Prince: 13.9 ppg, 5.6 rbg, 1.3 apg Ish Wainright: 1.4 ppg, 1.7 rbg, 0.8 apg John Heard: 0.4 ppg, 0.6 rbg, 0.0 apg
Perhaps the most dynamic position for the Bears, this group of small forwards and wing players provided Baylor fans with countless opportunities to cheer this season, led by senior Royce O’Neale. Known as the ultimate “glue guy,” O’Neale did a little of everything for his team. After finishing top 10 in conference total rebounds (10) and assists (8), O’Neale ended the season as one of the Bears’ most efficient players, averaging double figures and posting a remarkable 60% true shooting percentage. While his name may not appear on many end of season honors lists, O’Neale undoubtedly helped lead this squad to multiple victories and will go down as one of the most well-rounded and solid players in Baylor Basketball history.
Meanwhile, for what O’Neale lacked in national attention, Taurean Prince more than made up for. One of the most proficient scorers in college basketball, Prince posted the sixth highest per game scoring total in the Big 12 and a three-point field goal average of 41%. What is perhaps most impressive for Prince, however, is the fact that he accomplished these feats while coming off of the bench, earning Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year honors along the way. Five straight games of more than 17 points, including three 20+ point showings, helped the Bears finish conference play in a prime position to earn a No. 3 seed and its first ever back-to-back NCAA Tournament bid.
While many look to Rico Gathers as the most physically imposing build on the Baylor roster, Ish Wainright is not far behind. As the 6’5’’ sophomore continues to improve, more and more are starting to see the potential Wainright has to become a dominating force on both ends of the court. Capable of playing any position from guard to forward, Wainright served as a rotational reprieve, logging a little under 10 minutes per game, but did turn in a clutch free throw shooting performance against West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament, knocking down five of six attempts.
Rounding out the wings sits John Heard, a walk-on who, along with Austin Mills, gained notoriety among Baylor fans for earning a scholarship for the season.
Rico Gathers: 11.6 ppg, 11.6 rbg, 0.5 apg Johnathan Motley: 7.7 ppg, 4.2 rbg, 0.7 apg Deng Deng: 2.9 ppg, 2.0 rbg 0.2 apg T.J. Maston: 1.7 ppg, 0.9 apg, 0.1 apg
While Baylor Basketball has seen its own share of fan favorites during Scott Drew’s tenure, few players have captured the attention and love of the fans as Rico Gathers. After waiting his turn behind NBA bigs Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin, Gathers finally found himself in the starting lineup this past season, but without the national attention received by the duo that dubbed itself the “Twin Towers.” Unable to carry such a moniker, Gathers made up for his lack of interior height with his bruising attitude and unstoppable motor, earning the top number of offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, and total rebounds in the Big 12. On top of that, Gathers finished the season with the fourth highest rebounding total per game in the country. Most notable, however, may be Gathers’ development on the offensive end. Before seen as a liability, Gathers has improved his game each season to the point of averaging almost 12 points per contest this past year, a double-double when combined with his rebounding margin.
For a roster usually filled with NBA-caliber talent at the forward position, Johnathan Motley earned notoriety with national analysts as the “only true NBA player” on the Bears’ listing this season. After redshirting his first season with the Bears, Motley used valuable experience gained in practice behind Jefferson, Austin, and Gathers to work his way into the starting lineup. Even though Motley did show flashes of high-level offensive production, such as a 14-point showing versus Iowa State, the youthful forward remained inconsistent on the season.
Rounding out a roster with three JuCo transfers, Deng Deng looked to provide depth to a frontcourt that lost its two starters from the 2013-14 season. A native of Sudan, the athletic big never quite found his way into the season rotation, failing to enter the last seven games on the season.
Lastly, T.J. Maston, a freshman from DeSoto, TX, found himself in a position familiar to most first-year big men under Drew. While not logging more than six minutes in a game, Maston is yet another long, athletic big who will work his way into the lineup as he progresses over the years.