Men’s basketball opens practice with high expectations

Senior forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. drives on junior forward Jonathan Davis during a practice drill. Photo Credit: Baylor Athletics

By Ben Everett | Sports Writer

The Baylor men’s basketball team is in the midst of their second week of practice as they prepare for an expectation-filled 2017-18 season.

While the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 rankings have yet to be released, the Bears are already appearing in preseason rankings from other media outlets such as CBS Sports, which has them at No. 18 and Bleacher Report, who put the Bears at No. 17.

The Bears have not been ranked in the preseason Top 20 since the 2012-13 season.

Junior guard Jake Lindsey said the potential for greatness is there because of the abundance of experience on the team.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who played in big moments and hit big shots in big moments,” Lindsey said. “We have that experience and are ready to carry that over into bigger roles.”

The Bears’ roster is largely still intact from the 27-win team that reached the school’s fourth-ever Sweet Sixteen last year, losing power forward Johnathan Motley to the NBA, junior guard Al Freeman and sophomore guard Wendell Mitchell both transferred and senior guard Ishmail Wainwright now plays football.

Motley’s decision to forego his senior season and enter the NBA Draft leaves a hole at the power forward position that head coach Scott Drew hopes senior forward Terry Maston can fill.

“When you lose Johnathan Motley you need someone to pick up that scoring slack,” Drew said. “Hopefully [Maston is] able to do that. With more minutes hopefully you get the consistency. With the added strength you get throughout your college career hopefully he’s a better rebounder and defender as well.”

Maston put up 7.1 points per game last season on 52 percent shooting from the field in just 15.6 minutes per game off the bench. Maston has the opportunity to start next to senior center Jo Lual-Acuil, Jr. who led the Big 12 Conference in blocks at 2.5 per game last season, but recorded 57 of his 87 blocks in non-conference games.

Drew said a year of practice and strength training should help Lual-Acuil, Jr. with staying consistent through the entire season.

“Jo is one of the premier defensive players in the country,” Drew said. “The intensity he brought early in the year was really special. Now I think after another year of the weights and conditioning hopefully he’ll be able to maintain that level of intensity and play throughout the Big 12.”

The leading returning scorer from last season, senior guard Manu Lecomte, played with the Belgian national team at the FIBA Eurobasket competition this summer, averaging five points per game.

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Senior guard Manu Lecomte runs the floor in a transition drill during a Baylor practice.
Photo credit: Baylor Athletics

Lecomte said playing with professionals helped his game.

“It was a great experience to play with real pros,” Lecomte said. “They already make money and are like 30 years old at least. The game is different. It teaches you another part of the game, so it helped me a lot.”

Lecomte averaged 12.2 points per game on 41 percent shooting from 3-point range while also leading the team with 3.8 assists per game during the 2016-17 season.

The Bears welcome four new players to the active roster. Freshman forward Tristan Clark, redshirt freshman forward Mark Vital, redshirt freshman guard Tyson Jolly and sophomore transfer center Leonard Allen.

Baylor opens the season against Central Arkansas at 12 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10 at the Ferrell Center.