Big 12 Summer Update: Baylor Bears

Posted by dnspewak on July 25th, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writers Danny Spewak (@dspewak) and Jeremy Pfingsten (@jeremylp21) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — an update on Baylor.

Baylor Bears

2011-12 Record: 30-8, 12-6 (3rd place)

Baylor’s women’s program may have visited the White House after winning a national championship, but the men’s team did pretty well for itself too in 2011-12. Scott Drew dealt with the resurfacing of the usual criticism of his program after a 17-0 start turned into a mid-season swoon, but by the end, his supposedly soft and undisciplined program found a way to reach the Elite Eight for the second time in three years. Now, however, the Bears must deal with a few distractions this summer — both on the court and off.  The first news out of Waco involved former men’s basketball walk-on Richard Khamir Hurd, who was arrested and charged with trying to extort ex-star football quarterback Robert Griffin III. Authorities haven’t released many details about the actual extortion attempt, but this is a mess of a situation for a program that could afford to go, say, 100 more years without another legal scandal after the Patrick Dennehy murder in 2003.

That’s not all, though. The most crippling off-season development punished Drew for major NCAA violations. He’ll be suspended for two of the first Big 12 Conference games in 2012-13 after the NCAA claimed he failed to monitor the program in accordance with NCAA regulations. It was determined that Baylor’s men’s and women’s basketball programs had more than 1,000 impermissible text messages and phone calls, and the NCAA accepted the program’s self-imposed sanctions. In addition to Drew’s suspension, Baylor faces three years of probation, which affects Drew’s off-campus recruiting visits and takes away one scholarship for the 2012-13 season.

The last and most significant impact on next year’s team was the departure of Perry Jones III, Qunicy Acy, and Quincy Miller to the NBA. Granted, these players were expected to be in the draft anyway, but the Bears now have some work to do if they want to build on last season’s success.

Brady Heslip Won’t Sneak Up On Anybody This Year

Summer Orientation: Big surprise: Scott Drew has put together another top five recruiting class, according to ESPN, even with the violations and loss of a scholarship. As usual, the results are impressive.

Drew secured 7’0” center Isaiah Austin as a replacement for his departed frontcourt, giving Baylor a freakish 9’3” standing reach and the ability to shoot from deep. He’s a star prospect in every way and just might be one of the Big 12’s top performers in his first season. The bad news? He needs to bulk up. Austin has a skinny frame for his size, so he may not be effective as a traditional post man right away. Austin’s freshman sidekick this year will be 6’7” power forward Ricardo Gathers. When you see Gathers, you’d first think he is on the football team. Simply put, he is a beast. At 240 pounds, Gathers will immediately bring credibility to the post, even though he’s a tad bit undersized from a height standpoint. According to those who’ve seen him play, Gathers will step into the Big 12 with as much pure strength and physicality as anyone in the league.

Austin and Gathers are the two centerpieces of this recruiting class for Scott Drew, no doubt. And they’ve got the biggest shoes to fill. No matter the criticism during his two years in Waco, it can’t be denied that losing Jones will change the way Baylor plays in a significant way. For as many head-scratching performances as he turned in, he also kept opposing teams on their toes by flashing brilliant performances from time to time, like a 31-point output in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament against Kansas State. The physicality of Quincy Acy isn’t easy to replace, either, nor is Quincy Miller. That’s why this offseason is critical for Drew to help Austin and Gathers get on the same page. Drew brought in two other bigs as well in Chad Ryhoek and Taureen Waller-Prince. Ryhoek could be a steal for Drew. He’s a former teammate of Austin, so it was nearly impossible for him to develop his own identity and get positive attention playing with a star like that. There’s no telling how much that overshadowed his true potential. Waller-Prince was a late addition this summer for Drew, a forward who originally signed  to play with Long Island before coach Jim Ferry bolted for Duquense. He’s a project, but Drew apparently signed him after Miller decided to leave for the NBA.

The lone guard in this recruiting class is 6’3” point guard LJ Rose. Rose has great court vision and the ability to take players of the dribble, which should give him the chance to provide a breather for Pierre Jackson every once in a while and compete for minutes at that spot with Gary Franklin and A.J. Walton. 

Looking Good: The Baylor guards are going to be impressive this year. Brady Heslip hasn’t lost any of his shooting ability this offseason. In a recent workout session with some kids,  Heslip was predictably draining all of his shots. Like any great shooter, his work ethic during drills is a key to his success. As reported by Kevin Nagel, if Brady doesn’t hit a certain amount of shots during his drill, he starts the entire thing over again. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why he shot 45% from three-point land last season.

Heslip and sophomore Deuce Bello both went to Germany this year and played in the Athletes in Action games. Heslip’s basically a known commodity at this point after a surprising first season in Waco, but Bello has that “p” word attached to him: potential. He’s not known as a terrific defender or polished player yet, but this guy can dunk with the best of them. It doesn’t take long to notice his elite athleticism. Expect Bello to get a lot more action next season, so long as he continues to polish his repertoire this summer.

Make no mistake about it, though. This team is directed and controlled by the always-entertaining Pierre Jackson. Jackson, whom ESPN rated this summer as one of the nation’s most indispensable players, averaged nearly six assists per game last season and finished second in scoring behind Jones. As one of the top returning point guards in college basketball, you won’t find many passers better than Jackson, and you’ll almost never see somebody who can match his pure speed. Jackson just needs to control his turnovers. With an assist-to-turnover ratio worse than the magical 2:1 in 2011-12, Jackson often found himself out of control, always trying to make the perfect highlight-reel play or the perfect pass. Much like the Tyshawn Taylor situation at Kansas, Drew will have to live with the good and bad with Jackson, but his strengths clearly outweigh his deficiencies.

With Rose also in the fold, Jackson has a lot of help behind him in A.J. Walton and Gary Franklin. Walton, who actually started at point for much of last year before Drew finally decided he could not play Jackson off the bench in good conscience, is a steady senior and one of the only guys who has been with Baylor for all four years of his career. Franklin did some good things last year after transferring from California, too. He’s a “no-mistake” kind of guy who won’t turn the ball over and can run the offense effectively, so it’ll be a battle for minutes this summer at the point guard position, that’s for sure. Funny thing is, Franklin transferred to Baylor specifically because Mike Montgomery didn’t use him as a point guard at Cal. Tough luck.

The forgotten man in all of this is 6’11”, 250-pound center J’mison Morgan. He hasn’t played in a year after redshirting 2011-12, and after transferring from UCLA, he’s never lived up to some lofty expectations. This was a big-time recruit for Ben Howland out west, but he’s struggled to stay in shape and did not grow into a contributor under either Howland or Drew. With one last chance as a senior, this could be the year it all comes together for Morgan. Despite the talent of Austin and the rest of the forwards on this squad, Morgan is unique as a true center. Austin might be 7’0”, but he’s a skinny guy and a little more finesse-oriented. Morgan is not finesse in any way, and he’s the one guy who can maybe replace that physical nature of Quincy Acy. He and Cory Jefferson, an athletic, 6’9” post defender who could grow as a player with more opportunities next year, could play key roles as returning veterans. If walk-on Logan Lowery, who redshirted a year ago after transferring immediately from reclassified Centenary, finds any playing time in this frontcourt, it’d be a miracle.

Roadblocks: This team is good. Really good. As always, the biggest hurdle on the floor for Baylor will be keeping those egos in check. That’s been a main criticism of Drew’s program ever since he took over, and at times, it’s become a burden. Look at how that 2010-11 team tumbled, for example. But Drew is used to dealing with this criticism, and with two Elite Eights now under his belt, he’s beginning to prove the doubters wrong. The roadblocks mostly have had to do with all of these off-the-court issues. The Hurd scandal. Probation. Drew’s suspension. These sanctions aren’t going to turn Baylor into Penn State by crippling it to pieces, but these are the kinds of things that can pile up on each other.

State of the Program: 

Pretty easy to see where this is going. Scott Drew offers blue-chip recruits the opportunity to play freely and unrestricted in an NBA-style offense; blue-chip recruits see Drew’s former players making millions in the league and accept. It’s happened over and over again, and no matter what you say about Drew, he sticks to his ways. He’s not Bob Knight, he’s not Coach K, and he’s not running a strict motion offense with staunch man-to-man defensive principles. This isn’t Norman Dale at Hickory. He’s not old-school at all. But judging by his latest recruiting class, it’s once again obvious that some of the best high school prospects like the idea of playing under Drew. They like the fact that he’s loose and that he’ll allow them the chance to showcase their skills to pro scouts in his isolation, mismatch-based offense. Drew isn’t going to change his philosophy any time soon, and high school recruits aren’t going to stop committing to Baylor any time soon, either. There is a risk involved with the way Drew has built his program, of course. Two years ago, one of the most talented teams in the Big 12 crashed and burned and tumbled all the way to the NIT. But that was sandwiched between two Elite Eights in 2010 and 2012, and Drew’s program is still shocking the college basketball world after he took over in the midst of the Dennehy scandal. The main key for Drew is he has a terrific point guard in Jackson this year to lean on. When Drew’s teams have struggled in the past, it’s because he did not have facilitators on the offensive end and his players did not pass all that well. With Jackson — as well as three other capable point guards on the roster — that shouldn’t be an issue this year, just as it wasn’t last year.

dnspewak (343 Posts)

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