Practice, practice, practice. So far, that is all there has been for the Baylor men's team. There even has been a practice trip, complete...
Practice, practice, practice.
So far, that is all there has been for the Baylor men’s team. There even has been a practice trip, complete with bus ride, overnight hotel stay, morning shoot-around and intrasquad scrimmage.
While many teams already have played about 10 games, the Bears are banned this season from playing nonconference games. It is part of the NCAA punishment for numerous violations under former coach Dave Bliss.
So they wait, watch other teams play on television and keep practicing until their Big 12 Conference opener Jan. 11 at Texas Tech.
“When you see people playing in game situations, it hurts not to be a part of it,” said Aaron Bruce, the nation’s top scoring freshman last season. “But we’re working very hard, and we’re just looking forward to getting started.”
And finally getting past the penalties for violations discovered after former player Carlton Dotson murdered teammate Patrick Dennehy Jr. in 2003, sparking a scandal that led to Bliss’ resignation.
All that came before the arrival of coach Scott Drew and all but one current player, senior Tommy Swanson.
“The light is definitely at the end of the tunnel,” Drew said.
Of the sanctions, Bruce said, “Once we’re done with them, we can just turn our back on the whole situation. We’ll always remember what happened, but can turn our backs on the penalties and stuff like that and just really focus on basketball.”
After considering a full-season ban, the NCAA in June instead levied what is believed to be an unprecedented partial ban on regular-season games. Baylor got the choice of when to take the reduced schedule, and chose this season rather than the 2006-07 season.
Baylor got to start practice in October, along with other teams. But when everybody else started playing games, the Bears kept practicing.
Without games, Drew and his staff shortened practice sessions and devoted more time to individual development of skills such as passing, shooting, rebounding and dribbling. Players still spend an hour a day, three times a week, lifting weights.
“With a young team, physically, you’re normally not as developed. And when the season starts, you’re in a maintaining mode,” Drew said. “We have been able to keep the building mode for a longer period.”
There isn’t any replacement for game experience, but the extra development time could have long-term benefits for a team with two seniors and six freshmen — the most for Baylor since the 1978-79 season.
Five of the freshmen were playing in high school last year. The other is 7-foot center Mamadou Diene from Senegal, who has gone from 200 pounds to more than 240 since getting to Baylor last winter.
“We know all the plays like the back of our hand; that shouldn’t be a problem,” freshman guard Curtis Jerrells said.
Before getting a rare extended break for Christmas, just as they did around Thanksgiving, the Bears hit the road. Drew didn’t want the opener at Texas Tech — more than 300 days after their last game — to be their first trip this season.
They went to Dallas and stayed in the same hotel they will for the Big 12 tournament in March. They practiced at the American Airlines Center, going through a shoot-around as they will on game days, then returned later for an intrasquad scrimmage that consisted of five 10-minute periods.
“That was our whole nonconference season in one practice day,” Drew said.
Conference referees officiated the scrimmage, during which Australia native Bruce (who averaged 18.2 points a game last season) had 28 points and 11 assists.
“The coaching staff has done a great job in making sure we aren’t doing the same stuff day in and out,” Swanson said.
Baylor’s program fell apart in the summer of 2003 after Dennehy was killed by Dotson, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Bliss and athletic director Tom Stanton resigned in August 2003, and school investigators later discovered Bliss paid up to $40,000 in tuition for two players and improperly solicited $87,000 from school boosters. The probe also revealed staff members didn’t properly report some players’ failed drug tests.
The 35-year-old Drew said, “Our goal is to be a competitive program as soon as we can, rather than waiting.”