Sparked by coach Scott Drew, the Bears' turnaround is one of the most impressive in college basketball history. Baylor won a school-record 30 games last season before losing to eventual national champion Kentucky in the NCAA South (ck) regional final. Three players were selected in the NBA draft and Drew signed a recruiting class that was ranked No. 4 nationally by Scout.com. Successful as the Bears were a year ago, there could be even better things in store in 2012-13 thanks to what may be the deepest backcourt in the country and the addition of a future NBA lottery pick in the paint.
The Bears took a major hit when Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy, who combined to average 36.1 points and 19.9 rebounds, left for the NBA . Still, Baylor will hardly be lacking in the paint. Cory Jefferson would've started for almost any Big 12 team last season but was relegated to just 10 minutes per game behind the Bears' talented frontline. Pencil in the 6-foot-9 junior as a starter along with highly-touted signee Austin, who can run, sink three-pointers, beat a defender off the dribble and can score from both mid-range and in the paint. Also a skilled shot-blocker, Isaiah Austin is projected as a top-five pick in next summer's NBA draft.
The Bears return five guards who averaged at least 10 minutes per game last season. Leading the way is point guard Pierre Jackson, a Cousy Award finalist who had team highs in points (13.8 ppg), steals (1.8 spg) and assists (5.9 apg) as a junior. Brady Heslip, who is regarded as one of the top long-range shooters in the country, connected on 45.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc in 2011-12, including a 54.2 mark (26-of-48) in the postseason. Senior A.J. Walton, who ranked second on the team in steals (1.3 spg), could also start in Baylor's three-guard lineup.
Seven-foot Isaiah Austin became the most high-profile addition in program history when he pledged to the Bears prior to his senior season. Ricardo Gathers should give Baylor the toughness and physicality it's often lacked down low, while L.J. Rose is likely to earn decent minutes as Pierre Jackson's backup at point guard. Forward Taurean Waller-Prince is a late bloomer who signed with the Bears in the spring after getting out of his letter of intent with LIU Brooklyn.
The Bears are shooting to win an outright conference championship for the first time since 1948, but Kansas has claimed the last eight Big 12 titles -- and the Jayhawks will be the favorites again in 2013. The keys to ending Kansas' streak will be another banner season from Jackson and Heslip, breakthrough performances from Bello and Jefferson and significant contributions from freshmen Austin and Gathers, both of whom must develop quickly. If those things occur, the Bears' potential is limitless.