As a high school senior, I knew I was going to Baylor, and I knew the Bears were in the 2008 NCAA tournament. So naturally, I penciled in 11-seed Baylor to beat Purdue, a 6-seed.
For those of you who don’t know how this story ends, Baylor lost — it wasn’t even close. But it was my first taste of Baylor spirit, and that’s what this story is about.
As a freshman, I was convinced I would have four years of elite basketball to enjoy while I earned my degree. It didn’t exactly go that way, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
In 2009, the same athletic team that had stunned the college basketball world by earning the final berth in the tournament the year before could not find a defensive identity.
Coach Scott Drew turned around the season by substituting big man Josh Lomers into the starting lineup and instituting a 2-3 zone defense. His new scheme propelled Baylor to a place in the Big 12 tournament finals and a tough loss to Missouri.
The Bears qualified for the NIT and clawed their way to the finals.
I loved it. Drew loved it. The team loved it. Everyone loved it … for the time being.
This Bears team advanced to the Elite Eight and was clearly a team of destiny.
But then Baylor ran into Duke. The Bears lost a close game, mainly due to a late charging call against Quincy Acy — a foul that he still denies to this day.
Though the loss of shot-blocking machine Ekpe Udoh to the NBA draft was devastating, I was excited for the arrival of Perry Jones III, Baylor’s first top 10 recruit, and a projected top 5 NBA draft pick.
Yet without Tweety Carter, shooting guard LaceDarius Dunn just couldn’t get it going. Walton did not live up to lofty expectations in his sophomore season and Jones III — while outstanding — proved to be just as most other freshman: inconsistent.
Worse than that? He was declared ineligible before the Big 12 tournament because his mother had accepted loans for housing from his AAU coach, a family friend. Baylor Nation was livid and frustrated, but mostly disappointed.
By adding a stellar recruiting class to this year’s roster as well as transfer Brady Heslip, Drew made this Baylor team the most talented one yet.
Baylor basketball didn’t suffer its first loss until they went to Allen Fieldhouse to play Kansas, a nearly impossible place to win. In the Big 12 tournament, though, the Bears stunned the entire state of Kansas in consecutive wins against Kansas State and Kansas.
Once again, the stars seemed to align, with 3-seed Baylor advancing by playing lower seeded teams and avoiding 2-seed Duke. After impressive wins over 13-seed South Dakota State, former Big 12 rival and 11-seed Colorado, and 10-seed Xavier, they ran into 1-seed Kentucky, 2012’s juggernaut.
After the first four minutes I sent a text message to my father: “Are you watching?”
Four minutes later my father replied: “I wish I wasn’t.”
Things had gone from fantastic to horrible in that small time period. After Baylor’s assertive start to the game, Kentucky began to run the floor, not even giving Baylor’s newly revamped defense a chance to stop them. Yet I still watched every last second of it.
Because I had fallen in love with this school, and by extension this team, five years ago when I decided to attend Baylor University.
Scott Drew is the single nicest, happiest and hyper person I’ve ever met on this campus. And no one is friendlier than Quincy Acy off the court. Sure, he seems mean and angry, but he really just hates the rim. He loves people.
Brady Heslip? Best wingman ever. A.J. Walton? No one is more fun to play basketball with in the SLC than A.J.
Not only had I fallen in love with the idea of Baylor Basketball, but I had become friends with team members and gotten to know one of the nicest men ever — who also happened to be the head coach.
Baylor basketball may have taken 10 years off my life over the four years I went to school here, but they helped make those the best four years of my life.
Benjamin Friedman is a senior journalism major from Katy and served as the Bear Pit president this season.