Seven Bears to make debuts in men’s basketball season opener

Senior forward Royce O’Neale surveys the floor during Baylor’s 74-61 win over the Iowa State Cyclones on March 4.  Lariat File Photo
Senior forward Royce O’Neale surveys the floor during Baylor’s 74-61 win over the Iowa State Cyclones on March 4.
Lariat File Photo

By Cody Soto
Sports Writer

Baylor basketball season is back at the Ferrell Center.

With only two seniors on the roster, head coach Scott Drew and the Bears look to make a new name for themselves in the Bears’ season opener vs. McNeese State tonight.

“I’ve been really happy these past couple of months with our team,” Drew said. “We’ve been mostly free from injury, so we’ve been able to get better every day.”

All eyes look to senior guard Kenny Chery, who played major minutes last season, averaging 11.5 points per game.

“It helps when you have a point guard back that’s diligent and a great leader and teammate like Kenny is,” Drew said.

Coming into tonight’s game, the Bears went 12-3 in their final 15 games to advance to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. Baylor basketball is ready to get back on the court, Chery said.

“We’re really anxious to get started,” he said. “We’ve been working all summer, and we’ve been talking about [the season] a lot and what we expect and what our team is going to bring in.”

The Bears don’t have an exact lineup picked out for their season opener, but the team expects to have stability on the court, Drew said.

“We are going to see a lot of guys play their first college game, so hopefully each and every game we’re able to see improvement from them,” Drew said. “The good thing is that we’ve identified a rotation that we feel comfortable with and what lineups work best. We do have depth to have different lineups, so as a coach that’s great.”

Averaging 74.8 points per game, the Bears need returning lettermen to step up and be leaders. Chery said players need to take on the role of last year’s graduating class.

“Being a leader for this team is about putting our guys in the best position possible, and we have to step up and be the Cory Jefferson, Gary Franklin, and Brady Heslip of this team,” Chery said.

Tonight will debut new faces for the Bears, and freshman forward Johnathan Motley will come and fill the shoes of former players Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin. Jefferson and Austin averaged 8.2 and 5.5 rebounds per game.

“We have a lot that we lost last year as far as production, scoring and rebounding,” Drew said. “Johnathan Motley is going to be a big contributor to our team this year. We’ve liked what we’ve seen in practice from him and we are ready to see how he does.”

The McNeese State Cowboys come into tonight’s season opener with a disappointing 11-20 season record in 2013-14. The Cowboys average 68.1 points per game and are .392 from the field. The team lost leading scorer Ledrick Eackles who averaged 17.8 points per contest.

The Cowboys will depend on senior guard Kevin Hardy, senior forward Desharick Guidry and senior post Craig McFerrin who all posted at least 9.2 points per game last season.

However, the squad was 3-15 on the road in 2013-14. The Bears hold a 13-4 home court advantage from last season and did not lose a non-conference matchup in Waco.

“Everybody’s getting better and working, so it’s a process,” Chery said. “The process is to get everybody going. We have a lot of new guys, so the plan is that everyone is on the same page and are ready for our game.”

Baylor looks to run the floor with the loss of last year’s height and start fast to get the season started right.

“We’re faster [than last year]. We have a lot of guys that can run the floor and can push the ball. Everybody can handle the ball and create opportunities for our teammates,” Chery said. “We know what we’ve been through last year, and we are going to bring in [the excitement] this year.”

With a new season and a new team about to hit the new court in the Ferrell Center, the Bears will watch for production from different players and see their lettermen rise to the challenge.

“No matter what happens, we don’t want to get too hot or too cold. We’ve got to stay cool and stay together,” senior forward Royce O’Neale said.

Baylor tips off against McNeese State at 8:30 p.m. today at the Ferrell Center. The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Southwest.