Scott Drew and Baylor best-kept secret left in NCAA Tournament
With a win against Wisconsin, Scott Drew and Baylor will have reached the Elite Eight for the third time in five years. The team has come a long way from the problems that nearly doomed the Bears' hoops program.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Here’s the issue with Scott Drew: No matter what your conclusions about the Baylor coach, you’re probably wrong.
He’s a walking, talking, coaching contradiction. Just when you think you have him pegged, Baylor’s coach makes it Opposite Day.
Random coaches have randomly ripped his recruiting tactics, except they can’t quite hit the moving target. Drew doesn’t bring in thugs. Not even close. Earlier this season, five players were baptized -- head underneath water, everything -- after accepting Christ.
The best time of year, Drew says, is summer and the NBA all-star break when his growing legion of Baylor-bred pros come back to visit.
Balance that with the fact that one of the feel-good programs left in the Sweet 16 here in the West Regional currently is on probation. That’s not even widely known. In fact a Baylor staffer had to double check.
But there are different ways to define probation. What was damning and impermissible a couple of years ago -- hundreds of phone calls and texts to recruits -- are pretty much allowed today under new NCAA legislation.
“The vast majority of our case would be legal in today’s world,” said Chad Jackson, Baylor’s compliance officer.
Go ahead, call all of it ticky-tack. Gary Parrish already did.
“We all know,” Drew admitted, “that the goal is not to be on probation.”
Spend enough time with him and two words come to mind when the ever-upbeat son of a coach walks in a room -- Eddie Haskell. Too good to be true.
But then he allows a reporter all access to his program for multiple days during conference tournaments -- twice. All you see are good kids, work ethic, the faith projected by a Baptist flagship school.
Baylor gonna Baylor. Remember that one? The three-word label took hold on Twitter this season. It summed up the general feeling that Drew couldn’t coach and Baylor eventually was going to gack away another one.
Except that Twitter hates everything. It certainly lacks any sort of reasonable perspective. The Bears started 12-1 then went 2-8 without point guard Kenny Chery. Chery’s back from turf toe and Baylor has won 12 of its last 14.
Baylor gonna ... be in the Sweet 16 for the third time in five years.
Drew and the Bears probably aren’t the best story here in the West Regional. They certainly aren’t the hottest topic among the remaining Sweet 16. Arizona’s the favorite. Its coach, Sean Miller, is one half of the first set of brothers ever in the Sweet 16 (Dayton’s Archie Miller.)
San Diego State might as well be the home team. The Aztecs’ campus is 90 minutes away. Their defense is a 40-minute fraternity hazing. Add in the mind games played by the intimidating student section, “The Show.”
The kids from Waco nestled in the plains of Central Texas are just happy to be here -- until the ball is thrown up against Wisconsin.
“We’re ready to get out on the court and show who Baylor is,” leading scorer Cory Jefferson said.
The real-time Scott Drew -- and by extension the Bears -- is the best-kept secret left in the tournament.
• They are torching the field in the postseason. Baylor has trailed for less than 7 ½ minutes in six postseason games (Big 12/NCAA).
• They've led by double digits at halftime in all six of those games.
• You might have noticed they eviscerated legend Doug McDermott and Creighton, winning by 30 in their round-of-32 game.
• Only 11 other teams have played in three Sweet 16s since 2010. Only six others besides Baylor remain in this year's field - Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
• Only nine other teams have played in two Elite Eights in the last four years. If Baylor beats the Badgers it will be in the Elite Eight for the third time in five years.
You know who's already assured of not attaining that goal? Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self.
• In the last six seasons, Baylor has the nation's best postseason winning percentage (17-3, .850).
Excuse this abrupt conclusion, but Scott Drew is a postseason mother. Flat-out. A 43-year old March master in the making. Only the teeniest bit of hubris leeks out when he is asked to project what percentage of fans know are aware of the above accomplishments.
“Probably,” he said, “the same number that got perfect brackets.”
No, he hasn’t won a national championship or even a Big 12 title. But he’s been within the Final Four twice, played for the conference tournament title three times in the last six years.
True, nine of those 17 wins were accomplished with NIT runs in 2013 (championship) and 2009 (title game). Drew, though, is the heart, lungs, soul and vital organs of a program that was left to die a decade ago.
Everything that Baylor is today traces back to a teammate murdering a teammate and the associated sins of former coach Dave Bliss. When the NCAA and Baylor got done (with its own self-imposed penalties) the program was blasted to the brink of extinction. The Bears couldn’t play a non-conference game in 2005-06.
Drew calls all of it an “isolated incident.” Maybe that’s the best way to go about things all these years later. Baylor not only survived but thrived. The Bears were above .500 and in the NCAA Tournament by 2007-08. By 2010 they were playing Duke for a spot in the Final Four.
Something is going on at Baylor that’s hard to fathom. In 2011-12 all 19 Baylor sports went to the postseason. Eight current coaches hold their sports’ record for career wins, including Drew. The football team won its first Big 12 title last season. A new stadium is going up within sight of Art Briles’ office.
The Brazos River runs nearby. There will be slips for fans to dock boats. Funny, but the Baptist flagship is openly promoting one of the new amenities -- “sailgaiting.”
AD Ian McCaw says the next order of business is getting a new basketball arena.
Drew actually laughs about one anecdote while sifting through the rubble of the murder/probation. He was hired in 2003 and quickly word went out for campus tryouts for walk-ons. Given the condition of the program, if you made the team you actually had a chance to play.
"We have the tryout days. There’s some size. There’s some athleticism,” Drew recalled. “Then we ask, ‘Where do you go to school?’"
Turns out they didn’t, at least not at Baylor.
“We had a lot of good players show up,” Drew said, “then we found out they were from junior colleges. They were from different cities. They thought they could show up on the team and not go to school here.”
He eventually recruited elite athletes. Last season’s point guard, the indefatigable Pierre Jackson, led the Big 12 in scoring and assists. Drew developed his own version of a zone based on Jerry Tarkanian’s old “amoeba defense.”
Last season, Drew says he used zone about 15 percent of the time in winning the NIT. This year it’s been about 50-50. Judging by Sunday’s result, Creighton never knew what hit it.
The coach was asked whether he used the zone first or predicated it on the length he had recruited.
“The second one,” Drew said. “There’s no defense out there that any coach is creating. Everything has been created.”
The latest set of pterodactyls to roam the back end of the zone are 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin and the 6-9 Jefferson. Place the zone in a win-or-go-home tournament setting and it’s tough to prepare for.
Jefferson is the leading scorer, more of a power guy. Austin is a skinny shot blocker with one functioning eye. Until he revealed that fact to ESPN in January, Austin had trusted only Drew and the staff with that information.
“I knew I was coming here since eighth grade when they started following me,” Austin told the Waco <em>Tribune-Herald</em> . “I fell in love with the program and I trusted them, so that’s why they were the first ones to know.”
Drew came to Baylor at age 32 as a known recruiter. At Valparaiso, he would regularly travel to Europe and Africa for his dad Homer, the head coach.
NCAA admission restrictions make overseas recruiting a lot harder these days. So Drew goes a lot to Canada. Guard Brady Heslip is a 3-point gunner. You saw what happened when Baylor was without its point guard, Chery, due to that turf toe.
“I think their style of play is similar to ours, in that so many Canadians play high school basketball and AAU basketball,” Drew said. “Then they get the exposure because they play in front of [American] coaches. They get recruited because people know who they are.”
This is a time for Coach Contradiction to be wallowing in praise. Baylor’s four NBA draft picks the last two years rank third nationally behind Kentucky and North Carolina. Drew owns four of the program’s eight NCAA appearances. There had been one since 1950 before he arrived.
There have to be more great recruiting stories out there. Heslip was mined out of a New Hampshire prep school. How the heck did Drew get a line on Chery at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo.?
“I don’t know how he got there,” Drew said.
Somehow, it makes sense.
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