If there is a symbol to Baylor’s success under Scott Drew, it’s Taurean Prince.
Five years ago, he was the ranked by ESPN as the No. 24 best recruit … in the state of Texas. The San Antonio native took a scholarship offer with LIU-Brooklyn but when there was a coaching change, he was released from his letter of intent and signed with the Bears.
A 6-foot-8 forward with a pro’s body and high school skills, Prince steadily increased his playing time and improved his game. He went from making a total of 17 3-pointers his first two seasons to 113 over his last two seasons. A first-team All-Big 12 selection, Prince was the 12th player selected in the NBA Draft and is now with the Atlanta Hawks.
“Prince signed early LIU – L … I … U,” ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “And he wound up being a first-round pick. If that’s not a ringing endorsement of the kind of development that Scott and his staff does, I don’t know what is.
“Prince didn’t step on campus as a ready-made player. He’s a perfect example of so many guys at Baylor who have gotten better from his freshmen to his senior year.”
Reid Gettys, who threw lobs to Hakeem Olajuwon when he played at Houston, is now a colleague of Fraschilla’s who does analysis on ESPN Big 12 telecasts.
“You talk about a selling point for a program, especially for a talented kid that’s not high on the recruiting lists,” he said. “It’s a credit to Scott and the entire staff how they evaluate talent and develop it. Anybody can look at a top 25 player and say, ‘He’s good.’”
Baylor, in case you’re not a card-carrying Hoops Head, has won 125 games over the past five seasons. Since 2010, the Bears have been two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16. That success is somewhat tempered by NCAA Tournament first-round flameouts the last two seasons but what Drew has accomplished in his 13 seasons is remarkable.
In 2003, the Dave Bliss Scandal (yes, there was a mess at Baylor before the current sexual assault infamy) rocked the athletic program and docked the basketball team its nonconference schedule in the 2004-05 season because of NCAA sanctions.
Drew was hired to not only clean up but to build a program that had endured a living death penalty. During his tenure, the Bears have made six NCAA Tournaments and won eight games; prior to Drew, the school had made four NCAA appearances with three victories.
“I honestly feel that it’s one of the greatest rebuilding jobs in the history of college basketball,” Fraschilla said. “It’s a program that rarely lose players to transfer and their players generally improve from the start of their career until they leave. They recruit well but they develop players and make them better.”
Drew hasn’t fished in the same pond as Kentucky, Duke and Kansas when it comes to recruiting. Tweety Carter, a freshman in 2006, was a McDonald’s All-American. LaceDarius Dunn came on board in 2007 and was the highest-ranked recruit in school history. Perry Jones III (2010) and Isaiah Austin (2012) were 5-star big men who stayed one season and had meh careers in Waco.
The pass-the-baton success began with Ekpe Udoh, a transfer from Michigan whose ability to control the paint on both ends led Baylor to the 2010 Elite Eight where it lost to eventual national champion Duke.
As befitting the world’s largest Baptist university, the process has been somewhat biblical. Udoh begat Quincy Acy who begat Cory Jefferson who begat Rico Gathers. Next up is 6-foot-9 junior Johnathan Motley, who has started all 68 games the last two seasons.
“We’re blessed that our vets, the guys who have gone on to the NBA, former players have done a great job of coming back in the summer and relating to our younger players,” Drew said. “They talk to the freshmen and the sophomores, work out with them. They mentor the younger guys and tell ‘em ‘Look what I did.’
“It helps the younger guys to not get frustrated. They see what these other guys have done.”
Drew can deliver the message of patience and staying the course. While that’s often correct and appropriate, it doesn’t always connect.
“It means more when Quincy Acy or Cory Jefferson says it,” Drew said. “They can say, ‘Hey, I didn’t play my first year but I practiced, I got better, bigger and stronger. That’s important. Kids believe kids. The peer pressure to get along and be accepted is really important.”
In addition to Motley, another Bear with breakout potential is the team’s only senior. Ishmail Wainwright, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound guard, started every game last season, averaging 5.9 points per game and making huge strides in 3-point accuracy. As a player who has gone through four years in the program, it won’t be surprising if he doesn’t boost his production this season.
“We’ve been blessed with good leaders,” Drew said. “Ish listened to Taurean. Ish has been a great teammate with a great demeanor and attitude. Now he’s our only senior but he’s somebody who’s really easy to trust when it comes to leading the team this season.”
If Motley, Wainwright and junior guard Al Freeman, the leading returning scorer who has been in the program for three years, can plug the production holes, Baylor could again make a run at 20 victories and an NCAA Tournament bid.
“I would make the argument that no program does a better job at identifying and developing players than Scott has,” Gettys said. “He’s in a league with some of the best coaches in the country and I don’t think he gets enough credit. It’s year in and year out. He’s been successful with players who were not even top 100 players.
“The players at Baylor seem content and patience to stick with the process. That’s how you define a program.”