The task must have seemed as daunting as climbing Mount Everest without a Sherpa guide. But Scott Drew was not deterred.
Maybe he was naive. Maybe he was so arrogant that he didn’t care. Or maybe Drew just had a sense he was the right person to turn around the catastrophe that was Baylor’s basketball program when he was hired on Aug. 22, 2003.
In the aftermath of coach Dave Bliss’ scandalous regime, during which player Patrick Dennehy was murdered and the NCAA assessed penalties including a loss of scholarships and a postseason ban, Drew has rebuilt the Bears into a nationally ranked program.
In their ninth season under Drew, the Bears are 10-0, ranked No. 6 and a contender in the Big 12 Conference. They are the showcase team in the Las Vegas Classic at Orleans Arena, facing Saint Mary’s (9-1) at 7:30 p.m. today and West Virginia (8-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday. The latter game will air on ESPN (30).
“It was a matter of making sure people knew what Baylor had to offer and recruiting good people,” Drew said. “We have good leadership, and our veterans have done a good job for us.”
Baylor is led by 6-foot-11-inch forward Perry Jones III and 6-7 forward Quincy Acy, who average 18.2 and 12.8 points, respectively. This season, Drew added former Desert Pines High School point guard Pierre Jackson after he was the national junior college player of the year while leading College of Southern Idaho to the national title. Jackson averages 11.2 points and 4.8 assists off the bench.
Quincy Miller, a 6-9 freshman forward, is also off to a fast start, averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.
For Jackson, playing in the Classic means a trip home. For Drew, it’s a way to give his team a glimpse of what to expect during the Big 12 Tournament.
“When you play in these tournaments, it helps you later in the year when you’re in your conference tournament and you have a short prep time between games and you’re playing back-to-back,” Drew said. “We’re going to face two quality teams in Saint Mary’s and West Virginia, which will test us and get us ready for league play.”
Baylor is in the midst of unprecedented success in its athletic program. The women’s basketball team, led by 6-8 All-America Brittney Griner, is No. 1 in the nation and beat No. 2 Connecticut on Sunday. Quarterback Robert Griffin III won the football program’s first Heisman Trophy this month.
“It makes you want to work that much harder when you see the success all our teams are having,” Drew said. “It’s a real source of pride. You see it all over campus.”
Drew said he knew Baylor’s program had made it all the way back when it hammered Saint Mary’s in Houston to make it to the Elite Eight in 2010.
“That Sweet 16 win gave us a lot of credibility with recruits,” Drew said. “It made people aware of Baylor for the right reasons, and we’ve been able to build on that success.”
Drew said he never doubted he could make things right at Baylor. He also was fortunate that the administration gave him ample time to do the job. Now, he has a big, athletic team that can compete with virtually anyone in the nation.
“What we’ve done is built a solid foundation and the house is in order,” Drew said. “When you’re building a house, you’re so busy trying to make it right, you don’t think about all the things you have to do.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.LAS VEGAS CLASSIC
At Orleans Arena
Bethune Cookman vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, noon
Tennessee Tech vs. Kennesaw State, 2:30 p.m.
West Virginia vs. Missouri State, 5 p.m.
No. 6 Baylor vs. Saint Mary’s, 7:30 p.m.
BC-A&M-CC loser vs. TTU-KSU loser, noon
BC-A&M-CC winner vs. TTU-KSU winner, 2:30 p.m.
West Virginia vs. Baylor, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Missouri State vs. Saint Mary’s, 8:30 p.m.
TICKETS: $45, $65, $115, $136 (two-day package)