Sports take: Leaders of men’s basketball

Junior guard Al Freeman fights his way through the Texas Christian University defenders on Jan. 13 at the Ferrell Center. The Bears won 82-54. Photo credit: Lariat File Photo

With former men’s basketball players Taurean Prince going to the Atlanta Hawks and Rico Gathers pursuing an NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, the Bears are left with a gap to fill as both played vital roles in the team’s success last season.

Prince and Gathers were both key players in helping the Bears make an appearance in the NCAA tournament last season. However, the Bears were upset by Yale in the first round of the tournament on a last-second miracle, losing by a final score of 79-75.

In the game against Yale, Prince grabbed 28 points in just 34 minutes of play as he lead in minutes and points. He also lead in three-point percentage as he went 4-7 from behind the three-point range in the game, and posted a three-point percentage of 57.1%, which was one of his best games of the season. Unfortunately for Baylor, not only was it not enough to get the win, it also marked the end of Prince’s collegiate career.

The Bears won 22 games in 2015-16 season, as they recorded the program’s eighth 20-win season in the last nine years. As a team, the Bears have averaged 23.8 wins per season since 2007-08.

As head coach Scott Drew enters his 14th season at Baylor, he hopes to guide the Bears to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid for the first time in program history.

Leading this hungry and motivated squad of players will be senior guard Ishmail Wainright and junior guard Al Freeman.

Both Wainright and Freeman played and started all 34 games during the 2015-16 campaign. Although Freeman saw more minutes on the court than Wainwright, both made their presence known in most games.

Freeman averaged 30 minutes a game and 11.3 points per game on the season. Wainright would end the season with a 40.6 percent three-point percentage and an overall shot percentage of 42.7 percent, while averaging 4.29 rebounds per game and 1.0 steals.

Together, these two have proven from last season that they can definitely handle the pressure that comes with being leaders on this team. These will be the two to keep your eyes on to take Baylor back to the March Madness bracket this season with a possible automatic bid from winning the Big 12 conference. The Bears should definitely be able to get past the haunting first round of the NCAA tournament, where they have fallen in the past two seasons.

Although Wainwright and Freeman may be the ones the Bears look up to as the season progresses, they will be joined by four returning letterwinners from last season, including 2017 Preseason All-Big 12 honoree junior forward Johnathan Motley, junior forward Terry Maston, sophomore guard Jake Lindsey and sophomore guard King McClure.

Freshman guard Wendell Mitchell and freshman forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. are also expected to make their debuts after sitting out last season to retain a year of eligibility. In addition, junior college transfer forward Nuni Omot, freshmen forward Mark Vital, freshman guard Tyson Jolly and sophomore walk-on Jonathan Davis will be a part of the Bears’ roster.

With newcomers and returners in the mix, the Bears look to start off on a good note at 6 p.m. on Nov. 11 as they take on Oral Roberts at the Ferrell Center in their first game of the season.