By Greg DeVries
Losing in the Elite Eight in two of the past three seasons has left this Baylor men’s basketball team hungry.
The players believe that the program is at a level now where making the NCAA tournament is a given, and tournament runs are expected.
In 2010, the Bears lost to eventual national champion Duke.
Last season ended in an Elite Eight loss to the eventual national champion Kentucky.
Senior guard Pierre Jackson remembers the end of last season, and the memories are less than fond.
The teams will battle it out again on Dec. 1 in Lexington, Ky.
“That’s the game,” Jackson said. “They ended my seniors’ season short. I’m kind of mad about that. I didn’t like seeing my teammates cry like that. So I’ve got my eye out for Kentucky.
Many of the Kentucky players have moved on to the NBA, but such is the way it goes in college athletics.
But as players leave, new faces arrive.
The Bears have added five freshmen to the roster this season.
“They have come in, and they have worked hard,” sophomore forward Logan Lowry said. “They’ve got some learning to do, but they’re working hard. That’s all you can ask from them.”
Freshmen center Isaiah Austin, forward Rico Gathers, forward Taurean Prince, guard L.J. Rose and forward Chad Rykhoek have already made their presence felt on the team, and the experienced players talked very highly of each of them.
“A lot of us have been playing either against or with each other for a very long time. The best part about it is that we know each other’s games. Most of us made a decision to come here together,” Gathers said about the freshmen.
Last year, Quincy Acy was the vocal leader on the team.
This year, that role is filled by a few different players.
“[The leaders] are kind of a trio. Me, Pierre, and A.J. [Walton],” J’mison “Bobo” Morgan said. “We kind of took the reigns of that. Acy was a very vocal leader. None of us are as vocal as he is, but Pierre leads by example and I am kind of the same way. We try and do it as a unit.”
On Sept. 22 and 23, the team visited Fort Hood and completed leadership training.
Last week, the team went through what is known as Camp 5.
Camp 5 is a week long conditioning routine.
Players arrived at their place of workout at 6 a.m. Camp 5 was no walk in the park for the players, and when asked which drill was the toughest, most responded with the same answer: 40 suicides.
“After the fifth one, I was done,” Gathers said. “It was a push on my part.”
Anyone who has ever gone through basketball conditioning loathes suicides.
For those who have not been introduced to the drill, suicides are a series of sprints that go from the baseline to the near free throw line and back, to half court and back, to the far free throw line and back, and finally to the opposite baseline and back.
All players had to finish the suicide in less than 30 seconds each of the 40 times they ran.
“Brutal. Brutal,” junior forward Cory Jefferson said. “We made it through, and it made us better. It was something we needed. I didn’t enjoy it, but it was something we needed.”
“Oh, man. That was terrible,” Austin said. “It felt like we were in here for days…Fort Hood was pretty hard itself, but those 40 suicides will change a man.”
It wasn’t just the bigger guys that hated the drill.
The guards were just about out of gas at the end of the drill too.
“I think it brought us together more as a team because we had to push through it, but yeah, it was crazy,” sophomore guard Deuce Bello said.
Walton found the suicides difficult, but not the toughest of all of Camp 5.
The waking up at 5:30 to get to the workout at 6 was the hardest for him.
“I’m definitely not a morning person at all,” Walton said. “Catch me after 8 a.m., and I’ll be good.”
The team’s exhibition game will be on Oct. 25 against Abilene Christian.
Its first game that counts toward their schedule will take place on Nov. 9 against Lehigh.
Both games will be played at home.
At 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Ferrell Center the team will take part in Moonlight Madness.
The doors will open at 7:30.
Players will participate in a dunk contest and a 3-point contest.
Last year, Anthony Jones was the 3-point champion, and Jackson won the dunk contest over the favored Bello.
“I’m going to do a couple of new things,” Bello said. “We’ll see. You never know what Pierre has up his sleeve.”
“I [will be] the two-time champion,” Jackson said. “I’m calling it. You can tell everybody.”