Incoming players look to help team reach postseason
By Ben Friedman
Instead of rebuilding, the Bears are reloading for 2011-2012.
After a disappointing 18-13 (7-9) season, Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears have their eyes on a national championship next year. The Bears are losing LaceDarius Dunn, who graduated and will enter this year’s NBA draft.
As the Bears’ leading scorer, Dunn was integral to the team.
The Bears have added two freshmen and three transfers while returning freshman phenom Perry Jones III, who shocked the basketball world by announcing he would stay at Baylor for an extra season instead of entering the draft.
“The whole college experience with my teammates — that was a big part of this decision,” Jones said. “Just enjoying life with them. I do not want to cut that short and just leave out of nowhere. I want to have another good time like I did this year.”
While Jones is returning, several players won’t. Sophomore center Dragan Sekelja and freshman guard Stargell Love decided to transfer in May.
Returning players, in order of minutes per game, are:
No. 22 A.J. Walton (PG): After struggling to replace Tweety Carter, Walton looks to show everyone why he was named Mr. Basketball in Arkansas after his senior year of high school. The junior led the team in assists last season and is projected to start at point guard once again, although newcomer Pierre Jackson should see a lot of playing time at the position as well.
Walton received criticism throughout the year regarding his high number of turnovers. When asked about the issue, Walton said, “I hate it when I turn the ball over. But I have to just go out there, play, and try not to do it again.”
No. 41 Anthony Jones (SF): The 6-foot-10-inch small forward may have an awkward release on his jump shot, but it’s certainly accurate. Jones had the second-most 3-pointers on the team last season behind Dunn, shooting over 30 percent from beyond the arc. Jones moves toward the rim, especially when driving along the baseline. As a senior, Jones is expected to step into a leadership role this season, and fans hope he can become a true scoring threat.
No. 5 Perry Jones III (PF): Baylor’s most talented returning player will be one of Baylor’s two top 10 NBA talents in the coming season. His scoring and rebounding numbers compare favorably to those of Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) during his freshman season. Baylor fans can reasonably hope that Jones produces similarly to Griffin in his sophomore season when he won the Dr. James Naismith Award for the College Player of the Year.
No. 4 Quincy Acy (PF): Between his Abraham Lincoln beard and Ferrell Center-rocking dunks, it’s not tough to figure out why Acy is a fan favorite. Sporting the highest vertical leap on the team, Acy is a dynamic force, both in rebounding the basketball and blocking shots while he anchors Baylor’s zone defense. As a senior, Acy is clearly the emotional leader of the team. Drew has consistently praised Acy’s tremendous work ethic and the example he sets for incoming players.
No. 11 J’mison Morgan (C): After struggling at UCLA, Bobo – the nickname tattooed on his calves – had a breakout year after transferring to Baylor, particularly on defense. The latest example of Baylor’s staff producing excellent big men, 6-foot-11-inch Morgan is expected to be the big body in the lane and figures to be instrumental in Baylor’s title shot during his senior season.
No. 3 Fred Ellis (SG): Ellis is back for his fourth season of eligibility after graduating in December last year. He will attend graduate school as he fights for the starting shooting guard spot. Ellis is a prototypical “glue guy” who can knock down an open jump shot, rebounds well and takes care of the ball.
No. 34 Cory Jefferson (PF/C): After redshirting his sophomore season due to an ankle injury and a loaded front court, Jefferson is ready to show the nation what he can do. Word out of camp is that he has significantly improved every aspect of his game, and NBA scouts are excited to see how he develops over the next two seasons.
Although there’s a significant veteran presence on these new Baylor Bears, there are also five newcomers who may be major factors in the upcoming season. Drew brought in a recruiting class consisting of:
Quincy Miller (SF/PF): Baylor’s highest-rated recruit (#4 Rivals.com) in history comes with quite a bit of hype. “I’m excited about next season because I want to see what Quincy Miller can bring to the team,” Channelview senior Kyle Beam said.
Already projected by some experts to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, Miller is expected to start for the Bears and make an immediate impact. However, he’s coming off an ACL tear during his senior season at Westchester County Day School in North Carolina.
Deuce Bello (SG): A high school teammate of Miller’s, Bello has the vertical leap and dynamic dunking ability to be a highlight reel when driving to the basket.
“I’ve watched his highlight tapes (on YouTube), and I can’t wait to see Deuce Bello dunk. He’s fantastic,” said Chicago sophomore David Spitler.
Bello must work on his jump shot to be a true difference-maker at the college level. But as a freshman who expects to stay four years, he has time.
#13 Brady Heslip (PG/SG): After redshirting at Boston College and then transferring to Baylor, NCAA rules required that Heslip sit out another year. So his college career will finally begin this year at Baylor. Heslip is known for his 3-point shooting ability and fans have seen him make many a shot while sitting on the Baylor bench in his dress clothes. If Drew’s offense can get him open, expect Heslip to sink the shot.
#2 Gary Franklin (PG/SG): After a disappointing beginning of the season and some disagreements with his coach at the University of California, Franklin made the decision to transfer to Baylor. Because he played during his first semester at California, Franklin won’t be eligible until the spring. Many scouts and some coaches expect him to compete for a job as the backup point guard once he’s allowed to play.
Franklin is a dynamic scorer, which is something Baylor has missed at the position since Tweety Carter graduated.
Pierre Jackson (PG): Jackson, the latest addition the Bears’ roster, was brought in to provide veteran leadership and depth at point guard as a junior college transfer from the College of Southern Idaho. Jackson earned NJCAA Division I All-American honors after 18.6 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game while leading his team to an NJCAA title.
“Now that he’s won a junior college title at Southern Idaho as well as the tournament MVP, I know we would love to do the same here at Baylor,” Drew said.
Without a doubt, these Bears look much more polished on paper than last year’s, due mainly to four seniors, two juniors, a junior college transfer and a redshirt sophomore.
All key players are a year older, and according to Scouts Inc., Miller is a more complete player coming out of high school than Perry Jones III was last year.
The most interesting competition may be at the starting shooting guard position, where Ellis appears to have the inside track. But Franklin, Heslip and Bello all are considered serious candidates.
Predicting that the 2011-2012 Baylor men’s basketball team will be able to repeat their 2009-2010 Elite Eight performance is not an unreasonable expectation.