Kone is a versatile power forward with shooting and rebounding capabilities. He should make the biggest impact with his junior college experience. Rogers adds depth up front, while Dugat and Jerrells will contend for starting backcourt spots. Redshirt freshman Diene should benefit from a spring and summer at Baylor, while Vanttaja, a native of Finland, is highly skilled.
To order your 2005 Athlon Sports annual and receive $1 off plus free shipping courtesy of SI.com, click here.
Baylor was celebrating its most successful year of athletics in school history after the women's basketball team won the national championship, the men's tennis team took second in the NCAA Tournament and the baseball team finished in the top four at the College World Series. Then the bombshell hit. The NCAA Committee on Infractions wiped out the men's basketball team's entire non-conference schedule this season as a penalty for widespread rules violations under former coach Dave Bliss.
After taking the blow, Baylor coach Scott Drew came to grips with what his coaching staff faces this year. One of the youngest teams in the country will go into the rugged Big 12 with no games under its belt.
"There's really no formula to approaching this situation because no one's gone through it before," Drew says. "With a young team, you need non-conference games to allow everyone to find his niche and develop confidence. Now these guys will really be thrown into the fire. But we'll make it a positive by taking the extra time to focus on workouts and conditioning."
After ranking last in the Big 12 in rebounding last year, Baylor is counting on veterans Tommy Swanson and Tim Bush and newcomers Mohamed Kone, Mamadou Diene, Kevin Rogers and Jari Vanttaja to solidify the frontcourt.
Bush, who began his career at LSU, made a significant impact by averaging 12.7 points and 5.4 rebounds for the Bears last year while providing muscle at forward. Swanson, the only four-year player on the squad, played more consistently, averaging 11.9 points and a team-high 5.8 rebounds.
They'll have much more support this year. Kone, a top junior college recruit, should be a force at power forward after averaging 14.3 points and 9.5 rebounds at the College of Southern Idaho last season.
"Mohamed should make the biggest impact among the newcomers because of his experience," Drew says. "He's a very good rebounder, he can block shots and has enough range to shoot the 3."
After redshirting last year, and adding 40 pounds to his frame following a spring arrival from Senegal, the 7-foot Diene is still raw, but might have the biggest upside of any player on the squad.
Rogers is a top 75 national recruit who averaged 15.5 points and eight rebounds to help Dallas South Oak Cliff win the Class 4A state championship. Vanttaja is a sweet-shooting forward from Finland with good ball-handling skills.
A freshman All-America, Aaron Bruce quickly became one of the best guards in the Big 12, averaging 18.2 points and 3.8 assists while shooting 39.9 percent from 3-point range. After playing for the Australian National Team this summer, Bruce should be even better.
"It's hard for me to stop smiling when I talk about Aaron Bruce," Drew says. "He's coming off an exceptional freshman year, and we'll get to see more of his passing skills this year with more players around him."
Freshmen Curtis Jerrells and Henry Dugat should make important contributions. "Curtis already has a Big 12 body, and he can score, pass and handle the ball," Drew says. "Henry can make real difficult shots and penetrate into the lane. They can both play shooting guard or point guard, but they'll have to adjust defensively."
Patrick Fields had a strong sophomore year, averaging 11.1 points while showing good athleticism on the wing. Senior Kevis Shipman is a 3-point specialist who ranked second on the club with 38 3s last season.
Without a non-conference schedule, Baylor will be severely handicapped heading into the Big 12. If the Bears get off to a bad start in league play, it will be a long winter. But after two strong recruiting classes, Drew is encouraged. With 11 scholarship players, he has enough depth to compete.
Winning the Big 12 Tournament will probably be their only avenue to the NCAA tournament this season. If the Bears finish out of the Big 12 cellar, it will be a major victory.