By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor will close out its 2014 home campaign on tonight against No. 16 Iowa State at the Ferrell Center with its annual Senior Night.
After this season, Baylor will graduate three seniors: guard Gary Franklin, guard Brady Heslip and power forward Cory Jefferson.
“The longer you spend time with anyone, the stronger your bond,” head coach Scott Drew said. “Our staff, Baylor fans have had a chance to grow and know Cory, Brady and Gary, had a chance to see how they developed on and off the court.”
Jefferson was recruited in Baylor’s 2009 recruiting class out of Killeen High School. Jefferson was rated as the 89th prospect in ESPN’s Top 100.
“I remember, I think I was in middle school when the [Dennehy tragedy] went on, it was all over the news for a while,” Jefferson said. “I remember people asking, why Baylor? Why are you going to Baylor? Where is Baylor? Now, everyone knows Baylor, whether it’s football or basketball.”
Jefferson’s freshman year was 2010, the same year current Milwaukee Bucks’ big man Ekpe Udoh played his year of Baylor basketball. As a freshman, Jefferson played only 4.6 minutes a game, reaching the 15-minute mark only once in Baylor’s 2010 campaign that ended in the Elite Eight.
Heading into the 2011 season, Jefferson was asked to redshirt after the commitment of current Oklahoma City Thunder forward Perry Jones III.
“Nobody’s excited to redshirt, but I think after people spend that year off, they see how it’s very beneficial,” Drew said. “Cory, just like Ekpe Udoh and some other guys who have taken a year off, really took advantage of that. They got bigger, stronger, worked on their skill level, not only worked on their skills in practice, but got everyone else better too.”
Jefferson returned to action for the 2012 season as a redshirt sophomore.
Behind Jones, Sacramento Kings’ forward Quincy Acy and Denver Nuggets forward Quincy Miller, Jefferson averaged only 10.5 minutes per game off the bench for Baylor.
“It was very difficult to wait behind pros, but my family and teammates helped me through it,” Jefferson said. “I just kept praying and just learning from there.”
Jefferson broke onto the scene in his junior season, when he averaged 13.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while averaging a Big 12-high 61 percent from the floor. He was named All-Big 12 Honorable Mention for his performance. His season culminated with an NIT All-Tournament Team selection during Baylor’s NIT championship run.
Jefferson is averaging 13.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in his senior campaign.
“I’m sure Cory has meant everything. He’s been here since day one, right?” Franklin said mockingly, poking fun at Jefferson’s fifth-year senior status. “No but really, he does mean everything to this program. Cory is a guy who’s worked hard, not given up. He’s had pros in front of him at this position. For most, that’s discouraging, but Cory is the true definition of hard work, and obviously it’s paid off.”
Heslip originally committed to play basketball under Al Skinner at Boston College. Coming out of Canada, he took the fall semester off to play prep ball at New Hampton Prep (N.H) before joining BC in December.
Soon afterwards, Skinner and his staff were fired. New Golden Eagles coach Steve Donahue did not see Heslip as part of his plans, so Heslip chose to transfer to Baylor.
“I know how hard he’s worked,” Acy said after Heslip hit nine three-pointers in a NCAA game back in 2012. “When he came in, we knew how good a shooter he was. Every time I went to the gym at night, I would see him in there sometimes twice a day. He works for it.”
Heslip averaged 10.2 points per game in his first season, while averaging 45.5 percent from the three-point line. He broke onto the scene against Colorado in the Sweet Sixteen by scoring 27 points on nine three-pointers.
He had an off season during the 2013 season as Baylor missed the NCAA Tournament, but he has emerged on one of the key players on the 2014 team. He is averaging 11.4 points per game on a career-high 46.2 percent from three. He will leave Baylor with the highest three-point field goal percentage in team history with players over 200 attempts.
Franklin originally committed to play basketball at California, but transferred to Baylor in the middle of the year. After sitting out the required year, he debuted for Baylor during the 2012 season.
Franklin quickly became a fan-favorite as a dynamic guard off the bench, averaging 35.8 percent from three-point range in his first full season as a Baylor Bear. He is currently averaging over 25 minutes per game, highest of his career.
“Sometimes we put so much on basketball, we don’t notice the finer things in life, which are relationships with people,” Franklin said. “It’s been a great experience, on and off the court. Everyone in the locker room have been guys who I’ll definitely invite to my wedding someday. I made friends for life.”
The Baylor senior class of 2014 is unique in that it does not possess a single regular four-year senior. However, this year’s senior class has been key in turning Baylor into a Big 12 and national power.
“I know senior nights are always emotional for everyone because it is the last time you’re going to see these guys on the Ferrell Center court,” Drew said. “You think back of all the positive memories and are thankful that they went to Baylor.”
Baylor basketball will hold its 2014 Senior Night against No. 16 Iowa State at 6 p.m. today at the Ferrell Center. The game will be nationally broadcast on ESPNU.
For the Bears to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, winning this game against a top-ranked Cyclones team would be highly beneficial to their chances of playing in college basketball’s premiere postseason tournament.