By Krista Pirtle
It started out as a chore, an unwelcome, early Saturday morning event they knew nothing about.
The Baylor men’s basketball team arrived at the Ferrell Center at 7 a.m., where they were given fatigues and boots and told to board a school bus.
“We knew we had a team event, but didn’t know what it was or any of the circumstances,” said junior guard Brady Heslip. The unknown team event would become a memorable occasion for the entire team.
The bus took the team to Fort Hood at a 55 mph crawl, where the members participated in Baylor basketball’s Weekend as a Wrangler.
Col. Simerly, Commander of the 4th Sustainment Brigade, told the team he was going to put them through challenges “that cause them to develop leadership skills and interact as a team and promote some discipline within those events.” The 4th Sustainment is also known as the Wrangler Brigade.
Baylor basketball head coach Scott Drew called six weeks prior to plan a leadership weekend for his team.
“For one, we wanted to come down here and do something as a team, but more importantly, we wanted to come down and say thank you to the soldiers and all they do for us,” Drew said. “A part of bonding is growing and doing things like this where you talk years from now, ‘Remember that time we went to Fort Hood and the experience?”
After Simerly’s debriefing, the team was broken into two groups for a leadership challenge course: senior Pierre Jackson, juniors Cory Jefferson and Heslip, sophomores Deuce Bello and Logan Lowrey and freshmen Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers made the first; the second team comprised seniors J’Mison Morgan and Walton, junior Gary Franklin and freshmen L.J. Rose, Taurean Prince and Chad Rykhoek. Coaches and support staff also split into two teams, making four total. The teams had to solve challenging obstacles that required teamwork and strategy. One task included transporting three poles, a barrel and a rope to the other side of two walls without touching the red or standing on the walls, because that would “blow everything up.”
Walton’s group, dubbed the Outlaws, scored the best among the four teams.
“No slack,” Walton said. “You feel me? Outlaws, baby. Sic ‘em Bears. Shout out, Baylor Nation.”
Next up on the schedule: a gun simulation in a room with a giant screen full of enemy targets, and guns full of air to offer the correct weight, kick and lights to hit the targets.
One side of room was equipped with machine guns, while the other had M4s and a pair of 50-caliber machine guns.
Assistant coach Grant McCasland beat out three-point assassins Heslip and Jackson with 35 kills of his own.
“It’s only a simulation,” McCasland said. “But when you’re sitting in it, it feels real. And it’s a blast. Our guys are all competitive, so anytime we do anything together, it’s going to be competition.”
Jackson acknowledged his marksman skills were subpar but he didn’t fail to comment on his teammates’ lack of game.
“I’m throwing Deuce under the bus,” Jackson said. “Deuce is horrible. The guy was right by him on the screen, and he missed him. I was standing right there and was like, ‘Deuce, he’s right beside you,’ and he was like, ‘I’m trying.’ He’s that bad.”
Bello didn’t seem to think he was that bad.
“I got like 80 kills,” Bello said. “Me and Brady Heslip. Killing.”
Walton was also confident in his own gunmanship.
“I’m kind of nice with an M4,” Walton said. “And a 50-cal too. You better watch out. I’m kind of real on Call of Duty. It was a different experience, because you could feel the recoil but it was pretty cool. I liked it.”
The men talked big about their shooting skills, Drew said, but the next day, some complained of sore arms.
Later that night, the Baylor players coached four Army teams.
In the first game, featuring the red and blue teams, the point guard for the red team, who happened to be the only woman playing in the tournament, crossed her defender over, causing him to fall. She then proceeded to swish her elbow jumper.
The Baylor players erupted.
“She made somebody fall,” Jackson said. “I haven’t done that in a while, and she made the shot. It was real exciting. They had to shut down the game.”
That wasn’t the only time the coaches were all over the floor. Throughout the game, some Baylor players found it hard to stay in the coaching box.
Namely, Heslip and Walton.
“I think some of them would have gotten technicals, the way they were out of the box,” Drew said. “I liked seeing our guys coach with the soldiers and how excited the soldiers were to win the tournament and how excited our guys were to help them win the tournament.”
The Bears got a break before hitting another obstacle course at 8:30 the next morning. The first challenge was to climb a ladder to the top of a tower, and then lower headfirst all the way down the rope. A net waited below to catch hapless players, who then rolled the rest of the way down.
Morgan, who experienced the roll, said he couldn’t walk straight to the next obstacle.
“I’m so dizzy,” he said.
The other obstacles included crawling under barbed wire; walking and swinging, respectively, across beams and monkey bars; and one real doozy in which the Bears had to grab a rope, swing up to the top of a log-beam, maintain their balance standing on top of it, and then dismount.
The course was tough some of the players had their hands wrapped for blisters after the monkey bar station, but the players emerged stronger from the event.
“From the obstacle course this morning, you really saw people stepping up,” Drew said. “A lot of guys are scared of heights, and guys were out there encouraging others and doing things they probably didn’t think they could do.”
Even the Army personnel could see improvements.
“As athletes, I think that even though they’re fit, this is a totally different thing than what they’re used to,” said Sgt. First Class Amando Luna. “They’ve done a good job, a lot better than I expected. It’s been exciting. I talked to my wife last night, and we’re definitely going to catch some Baylor games this year.”
Though physically fit, the Baylor teams were whipped by the warm-up they had to perform in the combative training portion of the weekend.
“We hope the visiting team does those warm-ups, because they’ll be tapped out by game time,” Drew said. “You never realized what physical training our soldiers go through and how physically fit they are, and it’s amazing. Our players are elite college athletes, and I know they were tapped.”
The athletes and coaches were then coached on some combative moves by non-commissioned officer in charge Sgt. Billy Speedy.
Divided into pairs, the men practiced the new moves but more often ended up wrestling — and laughing.
“My favorite part had to be the warm-ups,” Speedy said. “These guys were loud, and they were struggling. They didn’t quite understand the warm-up but hey, they were trying. They wanted us to know they were trying. Seeing these guys come in, really give it their all and be excited to be here.”
Though Drew said he planned the trip to bond the team and promote its leadership attributes, he noticed the players’ character during the challenges.
“Why we’ve been successful is because we’ve not only had talented players but most importantly, we’ve had good Baylor men, and they have really good hearts. No one’s perfect. We all mess up, but at the end of the day, these are the type of people that you would be proud to represent your school.