WACO, Texas - The Baylor Bears endured an offseason unlike any other. One player dead, a former teammate accused of murdering him. The coach resigned in shame, the athletic director joined him. An internal investigation landed the school on probation for two years and a one-year postseason ban before NCAA sleuths even hit campus. The top three returning scorers transferred. A recruit decided to go elsewhere. What’s left?
A tightly bonded group of players looking forward to playing basketball again, a young, enthusiastic coach and the notion that things can only get better.
“All the events this summer are very unfortunate and regrettable. There’s nothing I or coach Drew can do to change those,” said Ian McCaw, hired from Massachusetts to run the athletic department a few weeks after Scott Drew arrived from Valparaiso to lead the team.
“What we need to do is try to provide the best basketball season possible and turn a setback into a comeback.”
Everyone surrounding the program agrees that the low point came July 25 when the badly decomposed body of Patrick Dennehy was found. He’d been missing for six weeks.
The turnaround, they say, began Aug. 22 with the hiring of Drew, who was coming off his first season as a head coach, having gone 20-11 and leading Valpo to the NIT.
Drew spent the previous nine seasons there as an assistant to his father, Homer Drew. Their tenure included a memorable run in the 1998 NCAA tournament with a team led by Scott’s brother, Bryce.
At 32, Scott Drew is one of the youngest coaches in the country. He looks boyish enough to fit right in when he joins players in drills.
“As soon as he got here, whether he knew it or not, he’d immediately made a change because everybody started talking about the future more,” said Matt Sayman, a senior who has emerged as the team spokesman. “Since practice started, there’s no time to think about the other stuff.”
Reminders of the other stuff, though, will loom all season. Every time the Bears pull on their tank tops, a black stripe honoring Dennehy will be on their left shoulder.
Drew said trying to ignore what happened would’ve been wrong. He said it’s more important “to show honor and respect,” adding that a moment of silence for Dennehy will be held before the first home game, Nov. 22 against Texas Southern.
The upcoming months also will be filled with inescapable distractions: the legal proceedings of former teammate Carlton Dotson, who was charged with killing Dennehy; a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Dennehy’s father; and an internal investigation of the basketball program.
Authorities said Dotson told them he shot Dennehy in the head “because Patrick had tried to shoot him,” according to an arrest warrant. Four days after Dotson was taken into custody, Dennehy’s body was found about five miles from campus. He’d been shot twice in the head.
Attorneys for Dotson may argue that he was insane at the time or shot Dennehy in self-defense. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Patrick Dennehy Sr. seeks unspecified damages in his lawsuit against former coach Dave Bliss, former athletic director Tom Stanton, school president Robert Sloan and Drayton McLane, chairman of Baylor’s Board of Regents.
The elder Dennehy, estranged from his son until about four years ago, contends his son was trying to expose wrongdoing within the program when “violent threats” were made against him, followed by his slaying.
Plenty of wrongdoing has been uncovered since Dennehy’s death.
Bliss was found to be directly involved in paying tuition and other expenses for Dennehy, a transfer student from New Mexico, and another player, and failing to properly report athletes’ drug tests.
That was enough to force Bliss, who won more than 500 games over 28 seasons, and Stanton to resign and for Sloan to impose penalties.
A week later, assistant coach Abar Rouse turned in tapes he secretly made of Bliss asking three players to say Dennehy sold drugs to help pay for his tuition.
Authorities have said Bliss probably won’t face charges. The basketball team, however, could still face more sanctions, self-imposed or from the NCAA.
So far, the stiffest penalty is having to sit out the Big 12 tournament. The Bears can’t go to the NCAA or NIT tournaments, either, but aren’t likely to make it, anyway, considering their roster.
Baylor has only eight scholarship players, and two were held out of exhibition games last week because of unresolved eligibility questions. The team also has four walk-ons, with more possibly coming once football season ends.
The Bears (14-14 last season, their fourth under Bliss) were expected to be better this season, partly because of the 6-foot-10 Dennehy.
He would’ve started at forward alongside Lawrence Roberts, with John Lucas III and Kenny Taylor in the backcourt. The three averaged a combined 40 points, accounting for 58 percent of Baylor’s scoring last season.
Now Lucas is at Oklahoma State and Taylor at Texas. Both will visit Waco this season, adding two more games with painful reminders. Roberts went to Mississippi State, while incoming freshman Tyrone Nelson instead went to Prairie View.
“We have nowhere to go but up,” said senior center R.T. Guinn, whose averages of 10.6 points and 5.6 rebounds make him the headliner.
With this season a lost cause, the focus is on starting over. Again. This is the third basketball scandal the world’s largest Baptist school has faced since the mid-1980s.
Drew has strong ties overseas and could try boosting the program with foreign players. Domestically, there are some serious image issues to be overcome, although few teams in a league like the Big 12 can offer as much playing time.
With the season opener only weeks away, fans are getting excited.
About 1,000 people were at the Ferrell Center for a first-ever Moonlight Madness event in October. Drew addressed the crowd, then handed the microphone to Sayman, who offered another heartfelt thank-you. He was afraid no one would show.
Now that he knows support is there, Sayman looks forward to “playing for the pure joy” of it alongside players who have become more than teammates.
“Just how much we’ve gone through together, we’re really close,” he said. “I think we’re going to enjoy this season more than ever before.”
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