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Good News Bears (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday January 29, 2008 11:15AM; Updated: Wednesday January 30, 2008 6:12PM
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Point guard Curtis Jerrells, a Texas native, was the centerpiece of Drew's first top 20 recruiting class.
Point guard Curtis Jerrells, a Texas native, was the centerpiece of Drew's first top 20 recruiting class.
Greg Nelson/SI

Among the school-imposed sanctions (NCAA penalties would come later) was a reduction in scholarships for two seasons, a ban on all postseason play for the 2004-05 season, and three years of probation, which the NCAA extended to five. Some people called for Baylor, a school that had endured two other basketball-related probations since the mid-1980s, to drop the sport.

Into this smoldering disaster bounded the relentlessly optimistic Drew, then a 32-year-old who had spent the previous 10 years at Valparaiso, nine as an assistant and top recruiter for his equally cheerful father, Homer -- who had built the once-downtrodden Crusaders into an eight-time Mid-Continent Conference (now Horizon League) champion -- and the last year as head coach. Scott thought Baylor, the country's largest Baptist university, and Valparaiso, one of the country's largest Lutheran universities, had a lot in common. And, says Homer, "Scott loves a challenge." According to his dad, when Scott was a kid and his friends came over to play sports, he would choose his sister, Dana, and his younger brother, Bryce (who'd later become a Valpo star and is now an assistant there under Homer), to be on his team specifically so he would be at a disadvantage. "He was perfect for the job," says Baylor assistant coach Matthew Driscoll. "He's very good at X's and O's, and with his international recruiting experience he could bring in players who didn't know Baylor from Duke, who hadn't been so exposed to the scandal. Also, at this level a coach needs a lot of energy and a thick skin. He's got both."

Drew was hired on Aug. 22, 2003, just seven weeks before the start of basketball practice. Of the eight players he had on scholarship, he would dismiss one in late December for breaking team rules, and two others would be briefly declared academically ineligible, leaving Drew with just five scholarship guys at one point midway through the season. "Hey, it was a walk-on's dream," says Drew, ever the bright-sider. "Not only do you make the team, you get to play!"

Somehow that team won eight games, including three in Big 12 conference play. Moreover, Drew was able to lure a few good international players to Waco, including Bruce, an Australian who would lead the team to a 9-19 record and earn Big 12 freshman of the year honors during the 2004-05 season. (Bruce knew about the scandal, as well as Waco's association with the Branch Davidian cult fiasco of 1993, but he says, "Baylor's pros outweighed the cons.") A year after he signed Bruce and center Mamadou Diene, a 7-footer from Senegal who is getting 1.9 blocks a game off the bench, Drew pulled in a top 20 recruiting class that included guards Curtis Jerrells and Henry Dugat as well as 6' 9", 240-pound forward Kevin Rogers, all highly regarded Texans. "I heard 'Why Baylor?' a lot," says Jerrells, a junior who leads the team in scoring (14.4 points a game) and assists (3.5). "It was a joke to a lot of my friends. But it was close to home for me, and I wanted to play right away. I knew I'd get a chance at Baylor."

That chance did come, eventually. In June 2005 the NCAA finally handed down its sanctions, including an unprecedented whopper: no nonconference games for the 2005-06 season. Making three straight months of practice interesting was challenging enough -- "There wasn't anyone we could call and ask, What did you do that time you didn't have a preseason?" says Driscoll -- but starting the season against teams in midseason form was brutal.

"It was like trying to get on the highway going 30 miles an hour when everyone else is going 70," says Drew. "We had so much anticipation to play those games, but we didn't have much chance to win them because we were so far behind."

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