By Chris Derrett
The Bears have had their share of ups and downs in their 2010-11 season, unfortunately not yielding many quality wins.
But for a coach and a program that turned from Big 12 bottom dweller to Elite Eight qualifier, the finished product is all the Bears are worried about.
“Young teams take time, and the good thing is we’re no longer young. We’re more experienced,” coach Scott Drew said.
Baylor cruised through its first eight nonconference games before falling by four points to a battle-tested Gonzaga squad in Dallas. From there the road got rockier as the Bears dropped two of three games at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
Now in conference play, Baylor’s season depends on whether its talent can meld into a postseason-caliber team in one of the nation’s toughest leagues.
It did not take long for freshman Perry Jones III to show his teammates and fans why ESPN ranked him the No. 3 recruit in the class of 2010. The 6-foot-11 Duncanville High School product has given his team everything it asked.
“He takes more pressure off my back. With him playing like he did tonight, that’s him. That is the Perry Jones I know. He is being physical and taking it to the rim and getting to the free throw line and knocking down shots, being all over the court,” senior LaceDarius Dunn said after Jones III scored a career high 25 points in Baylor’s win over Oklahoma.
Jones III’s skill set and rare blend of size and athleticism translates to post-up moves, midrange jumpers and the occasional perimeter shot if need be. His ball-handling also allows him to bring the ball up the court at the point.
The biggest adversary to Jones III could be himself. Unselfishness is usually praised on the court, but Drew and Jones III’s teammates would rather see him take more shots and call for the ball more aggressively.
“I have to be a beast on the court like coach Drew told me. Don’t be that nice guy that I am off the court,” Jones III said.
Another new face with high upside, freshman backup point guard Stargell Love, suffered a stress fracture that sidelined him for the last half of nonconference play. He returned to action in the Bears’ Big 12 opener at Texas Tech, logging five points in nine minutes off the bench.
“He gave us a great spurt, got us a few buckets and played great defense,” Drew said after beating the Red Raiders.
Against Oklahoma Love was scoreless in 16 minutes but notched three assists. As he gets more playing time and works back into the Bears’ rotation, he will provide much needed rest for starting sophomore point guard A.J. Walton.
After serving his five-game suspension following an Oct. 5 arrest on an aggravated assault charge, Dunn has contributed to the Bears exactly as Baylor nation expected. His hot shooting has produced 22.3 points per game, good for 10th in the nation.
Dunn improved last season in getting to the basket as opposed to camping on the 3-point line. But with the departure of point guard Tweety Carter, Dunn has shouldered the load of perimeter shooting for this year’s squad. He attempts just over eight 3-pointers per game and keeps opponents from loading defenders in the paint.
“Even if [Dunn’s] not scoring, he’s helping other people score,” Drew said.
Keeping pressure out of the paint frees junior Quincy Acy to do what he does best — create highlight reels with his monstrous dunks and make life difficult for post defenders.
Acy’s 50.6 field goal percentage ranks second in Baylor history, and 52 percent of his field goals (150 of 287) have been dunks.
It is difficult to classify Little Rock sophomore A.J. Walton as either a young or veteran player, because while he played 17.6 minutes per game last season, his role has completely morphed since Carter left. Now the Little Rock, Ark., native runs the Baylor offense and is up to 32.9 minutes per game, second only to Dunn.
“I’m thinking pass first instead of looking for myself, trying to get Perry going, Lace going, and Quincy, just getting them the ball on time and on target,” Walton said.
Although Walton’s 9.2 scoring average has not matched Carter’s 15.0 from last year, Walton’s 32 steals on the season are already approaching Carter’s 2009-10 season total of 42.
Rounding out the starting five at the 3 position is junior Anthony Jones. Jones’ 6-foot-10, 190-pound frame joins Jones III and Acy to form the back line of the Bears’ zone defense. Offensively, Jones shoots 48 percent, third on the team behind Jones III and Acy.
Drew has substitution options at every position. In addition to Love at point guard, junior Fred Ellis and sophomore Nolan Dennis take backcourt duties off the bench. In the post, 6-foot-11, 265 pound junior J’mison “BoBo” Morgan joined the Bears in the offseason.
Ellis graduated Dec. 18 with a degree in speech communications, maintaining the standard Drew’s program has set of academic success. He is now in graduate school.
Righting the Ship
Four games into conference play, the patterns are clear in the Bears’ wins and losses. Turnovers and defensive breakdowns doom the Bears, while an effective inside-outside game keeps the W’s coming. After an 85-65 loss that Drew called “embarrassing,” he analyzed the game and the season in an honest and concise sentence.
“We’ve got a lot of film to watch,” Drew said.