Baylor may not be the toughest coaching job in America, but it's on the short list. Scott Drew is rebuilding a program shattered by the death of junior forward Patrick Dennehy last summer and is serving a three-year NCAA probation for violations under former coach Dave Bliss.
Baylor is trying to compete in one of the premier conferences in the country with seven scholarship players, including only one returning from last season.
Despite seemingly impossible odds, the Bears' second-year coach is optimistic about the program's future. Though Drew realizes the rebuilding process could be long and arduous, he believes the program is headed in the right direction.
"Most coaches and recruiting experts feel we're in for a much longer rebuilding process than our coaching staff would like to believe," Drew said. "But recruiting will become easier as we go along because recruits will have less uncertainty about the program and the direction we're heading."
Despite having no more than seven scholarship players at his disposal at any time, Drew's first Baylor team was surprisingly competitive. The Bears went 8-21 overall and finished out of the Big 12 cellar with a 3-13 record.
Surpassing last year's record will be difficult. Junior center Tommy Swanson is the only returning scholarship player following the off-season departures of forwards Harvey Thomas and Corey Herring and guard Carl Marshall.
FRONTCOURTAfter playing sparingly as a freshman, Swanson averaged 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds last season. Whether he makes a bigger impact this season could depend on his ability to stay out of foul trouble. He led the Bears with 92 fouls last season on his way to five disqualifications.
Swanson will be joined in the frontcourt by 7-foot-0 freshman center Mamadou Diene, a native of Senegal, who is considered the jewel of Drew's first recruiting class.
"Mamadou is only 17 years old and needs time to develop more strength to adapt to this level," Drew said. "Though it might take time for his body to catch up, he's got a great deal of potential."
After playing his freshman season at LSU, Tim Bush transferred to Baylor in January and will be eligible in December. The 6-5 Bush should give the Bears added muscle and scoring punch in the paint. Mark Shepherd, a 6-8 walk-on who joined the team last season, could also see some minutes.
BACKCOURTAaron Bruce, a freshman from Australia who has significant international experience, will give the Bears immediate help. Bruce has the range to shoot outside but can also take the ball to the hoop. Playing for the Australian Junior National Team, he scored 25 points against the USA in the 2003 World Championships in Greece.
Kevis Shipman will also be a threat after averaging 18.1 points and shooting 40 percent from 3-point range at Tyler Junior College last season.
"Kevis has been a winner wherever he's been," Drew said. "He helped his team win a state championship at Dallas Lincoln and helped rebuild Tyler into a regional contender."
Stepping in at the wing will be 6-5 Patrick Fields, who averaged 17.6 points and eight rebounds at Panola (Texas) College last season. Fields redshirted at Ole Miss two years ago after leading San Antonio Jay to the Class 5A state title in '02.
Once considered one of the top players in New York City, point guard Roscoe Biggers averaged 10.1 points and 7.8 assists at Globe Institute of Technology in New York last season.
FINAL ANALYSISWith the least experienced team in the Big 12, the Bears will consider this season a success if they finish out of the league's cellar for a second straight year. Under Baylor's self-imposed probation, Drew could have signed nine scholarship players this season but wanted to save scholarships for next season when the Bears will have 12 available grants.
"Obviously, we're going to have a lot of youth and inexperience," Drew said. "We're building for the future, and we want to make sure we have scholarships available for the upcoming class of high school players."