|Sordid tale leads to incredible recovery for NCAA-bound Baylor|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 18 March 2008 10:44|
And the Bears know that story will be told over and over again now that they are in the NCAA tournament, five years after one of the worst scandals in college basketball history.
``Thinking about days like this and thinking about going to the tournament weren't even in the picture,'' senior guard Aaron Bruce recalled of his arrival in the aftermath of the scandal.
``What happened is not going to be forgotten, but we just want to kind of put it behind us,'' sophomore Tweety Carter said. ``And just let Baylor basketball be recognized for Baylor basketball, and not what happened.''
The Bears (21-10), the last of the 65 teams revealed on Sunday, are the No. 11 seed in the West Regional. They play their first NCAA tournament game in 20 years against No. 6 Purdue (24-8) in Washington D.C. on Thursday.
Scott Drew, the enthusiastic young coach who took over in 2003, has succeeded in a daunting and unprecedented task, the kind no coach should ever have to face.
``No one had really gone through something like this, you really couldn't follow a map,'' Drew said. ``When you have so much work to do, you never have to worry about second-guessing anything because your time is monopolized. We just worked 24-7, and that's all we really could do to get things going in the right direction.''
Five summers ago, former player Patrick Dennehy was murdered. Carlton Dotson later confessed to the crime and is serving a 35-year prison term.
Things then unraveled quickly in the men's basketball program at the world's largest Baptist university.
School investigators determined that former coach Dave Bliss paid up to $40,000 in tuition for Dennehy and another player and improperly solicited $87,000 from boosters. In an attempt to cover up his indiscretions, Bliss wanted to portray Dennehy as a drug dealer on tapes secretly recorded by an assistant coach.
Bliss and athletic director Tom Stanton resigned, the top three scorers took advantage of relaxed transfer rules to leave, and there were NCAA and school-imposed penalties, including reduced scholarships. The Bears were limited to a half-season with no non-conference games only two years ago.
``It's a cautionary tale for all of us. ... It's just a story that understandably will be told,'' third-year Baylor president John Lilley said. ``It was just one of those tragic, tragic occasions, but I'm just proud of what Scott has built back.''
As devastating as the beginning of the story is, that wasn't the end for Baylor. There was the recovery from unprecedented depths and now the next remarkable chapter: playing in the NCAA tournament for only the second time in 58 years.
``The story is a good one. Scott's gone about building a program the right way,'' said athletic director Ian McCaw, who was hired after Drew. ``It's a story that's really built on hard work, kind of the American dream. ... It's a wonderful story and America is going to get to see it.''
There were only five scholarship players during Drew's first season, when the overmatched Bears went 8-21 but managed to win three Big 12 games. But Drew built the program methodically and attracted quality players with his infectious optimism.
Bruce, a standout junior player in Australia, was the first notable recruit and set Big 12 freshman scoring records when the Bears won only one conference game in 2004-05. The junior trio of Kevin Rogers, Henry Dugat and Curtis Jerrells were playing against each other in AAU games when they decided they wanted to play together at Baylor.
Carter was the top-scoring prep basketball player in U.S. history, and freshman guard LaceDarius Dunn was the two-time Louisiana player of the year in high school.
``We've been able to become a competitive program relatively quick,'' Drew said. ``The good thing with us, I know we won't be happy just being in the tournament. With the way we played our last game, we're very hungry to get that taste out of our mouth.''
M, the Bears lost in double overtime to last-place Colorado and became the first No. 5 seed to lose in the first round of the league tournament.
``We just wanted the chance to come out and correct it,'' Rogers said. ``And the NCAA gave us one.''
The Bears had done enough before then, with their most successful Big 12 season and going 12-2 before that. Their only non-conference losses were close games against NCAA-bound Washington State and Arkansas.
But during those anxiety-filled days of waiting, and then being the last team revealed on the NCAA bracket, the talk was about their play, not what happened five years ago.
``The good thing is hopefully we're getting at least near the end of those questions,'' Drew said. ``That means we've made a lot of progress.''