Baylor basketball cemented their name in college basketball history after winning the National Championship on Monday over Gonzaga, 86-70. They became the second Texas school to win a National Championship since Texas Western in 1966.
Aside from that drought, Baylor basketball’s story in the 2000s has been a remarkable uphill climb. Head Coach Scott Drew would be the one to thank for the ascension after taking the job in 2003 following one of the biggest college basketball scandals ever.
Drew was coming into a seriously decimated program. During the summer of 2003, Baylor standout forward Patrick Dennehy was killed by teammate Carlton Dotson. The investigation of the murder opened up the flood gates to what was a skeptical program. Dave Bliss, the head coach at the time, was caught paying tuitions for players and attempted to sweep the murder under the rug.
This scandal sent Baylor’s men’s basketball program back light-years, and the punishments were severe. As they should have been.
The sanctions included:
- Reduced scholarships
- Reduced official recruiting visits
- One season non-conference ban
- Probation that lasted 10 seasons
Far from ideal circumstances to come into if you are Scott Drew. But Drew never wavered. He believed in his ability to restore order to Baylor basketball from day one. Drew clearly stated that he did not come to Waco to go to the NCAA tournament. He came to win games at the NCAA tournament.
Essentially starting from the ground up, Drew embarked on a journey that he knew wouldn’t reach success overnight. In the first four years under Drew, the Bears won a total of 36 games and brought up the rear of the Big 12.
Drew began to land bigger name recruits with restrictions and probations dwindling down and started to win some meaningful games. In 2010 Baylor beat Texas three times and ended their season losing to Duke in the Elite 8. This was a huge step forward in Baylor’s return to prominence.
In the early 2010’s Drew landed NBA-caliber players such as Royce O’Neale and Taurean Prince. At one point in the 2012 season, they rose to #3 in the country. Drew and the Bears were beginning to get in a rhythm in making the tournament and having a chance to make some post-season noise.
However, between 2013-2019, Baylor didn’t make it past the Round of 64. While they were getting better and better players each year, they weren’t cohesively playing at a high level.
The 2019-2020 season shined the brightest as Baylor went 26-4 and was a sure-fire #1 seed for the tournament. This was Drew’s most talented team and had many college basketball analysts believe they could win it all. But right when things were going Baylor’s way, the world stopped. Literally. Covid and the pandemic rocked collegiate athletics, and the 2020 NCAA tournament was canceled. Drew vowed that if there was a season in 2021, his Bears would be just as good or better than they left off in 2020. He was right.
Drew’s three best players Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell, all planned on entering the NBA draft but decided as a team to run it back one more time in hope to do something special. And they did just that.
Butler told the media after winning the National Championship that this was the goal, and they knew they had to go to battle together to achieve greatness. “Everybody sacrificed for it, and I think that’s why we’re here today. So glad that everybody came back. We got the band back, and we won,” said Butler.
18 years that began at the bottom of the pit turned into the making of college basketball history. Drew believed in his principles and vision to get Baylor and the city of Waco to the mountain top. 2021 National Champions.