Foreign tour prepares Bears for season

File Photo No. 22 guard A.J. Walton shoots the ball during the game against the University of Kansas Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, at the Ferrell Center.
File Photo
No. 22 guard A.J. Walton shoots the ball during the game against the University of Kansas Monday, Jan. 17, 2011, at the Ferrell Center.

By Chris Derrett
Editor in Chief

Baylor men’s basketball found a way to beat the Central Texas heat. They’re leaving for a while.

The Bears will wake up Friday in Toronto, Ontario and play three games in four days as part of a rare foreign tour, one that offers valuable practice time and game film not usually available this early in the offseason.

“You get acclimated to each other, and you get a sense of what each other expects and what they can do,” head coach Scott Drew said. “And it really helps for when you get back from the tour; then you have a month or so to look over [and say,] ‘OK, maybe we want do more of this, less of that.’”

Baylor faces the Belgium National Team at 4 p.m. CDT Friday, Ryerson University at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team at 4 p.m. Monday. While Saturday’s faceoff with Ryerson will be streamed for free on Ryerson Athletics’ UStream channel, the matchups with Belgium and Canada will be closed to the public and conducted like private scrimmages.

Baylor is taking advantage of the NCAA’s allotment to each basketball team of one foreign tour per four years. In preparation, teams taking foreign tours also may practice 10 times prior to the games.

Drew would welcome a foreign tour every year if the NCAA would allow it.

“It’s an absolute no-brainer. If we could practice longer, like if you started in September, everybody would do it, because the more you practice, the better you get,” Drew said.

The culmination of preseason practices and games gives the team a chance to meld veterans and newcomers, all of whom bring potential that is inherently uncertain. Just the possibility of having first-class talent this year, however, leaves senior Anthony Jones excited.

“I’m a senior now. I’ve practically been through everything. And the team that we have this year, I believe, it’s the most talent that we ever had,” Jones said.

Junior point guard A.J. Walton knew he’d be battling with incoming guards and attests to that competition after participating in the team’s 10 practices.

“Everybody’s going at everybody; nobody’s backing down. Seniors stepping up, freshmen not playing like freshmen and giving the seniors all they got and just [going] back and forth. That’s what we need,” Walton said.

Four highly touted guards and an equally acclaimed forward join the Bears this season.

The greatest perimeter threat among those guards, sophomore Boston College transfer Brady Heslip, actually traveled with the Canadian Senior Men’s team for training camp in Europe. Heslip is not expected to make the Canadian team’s final roster, though, and Drew expects he will wear a Baylor uniform when the Bears meet the Canadian squad.

“Jimmer,” Walton said when asked about Heslip’s range. “Man, it’s crazy. If you give him an inch, it’s going in, nothing but net.”

Former high school teammates Deuce Bello and Quincy Miller, from Westchester Country Day School in North Carolina, should be in the mix for the Bears as well.

Drew lauded Bello, a 6-foot-4 guard, for his athleticism that earned him the No. 19 ranking from Dime Magazine among all dunkers in the world. Meanwhile Walton has worked to keep the fiery, 6-foot-9 forward Miller’s temper in check during practices.

“We’ve been toning that down a lot,” Walton said. “[Miller]’s been on my team, so I just tell him, whatever you’ve got to say, just tell it to me.”

Sophomore Cal transfer Gary Franklin and junior college transfer Pierre Jackson, a junior, might also add pressure on Walton as Franklin and Jackson are both point guards. But that hasn’t changed the way Walton approaches the season.

“From the end of the season until now, I’ve been having the same thing on my mind – staying in the gym, getting better, being the leader that I need to be, the floor general,” Walton said.