By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor
“It always has to start somewhere,” Baylor men’s basketball head coach Scott Drew said.
The Baylor basketball program hasn’t always been the national championship-winning powerhouse that students and fans witnessed last year. When coach Drew first arrived at Baylor, the basketball program was struggling. They were decimated by tragedy, player departures, a depleted roster, NCAA restrictions and they didn’t have much support from the community.
“Back in those days, we were heavily outnumbered when it came to fans,” Baylor superfan Chris Fuentes said. “The opposing teams might as well have been the home teams. The games were being played in Waco but other teams had more fans than us.”
Similar to building a house, coach Drew had to start building his program by laying a solid foundation despite others not seeing what he saw.
“It’s kind of like any business,” Drew said. “You say there’s going to be a profit but they don’t see it yet; or you say there’s going to be success but they don’t see it yet. You say there’s gonna be packed houses, they don’t see it yet. You say you’re going to go to the tournament but they haven’t seen it, so it’s one thing to say you’re going to do something. That’s another thing to actually see it.”
On Aug. 12, that foundation was recognized by Baylor as the lone selections for the 2021 class of the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame honors individuals whose participation and contributions have enriched and strengthened the university’s athletic program.
“I know when they first came here, we had visions of the program reaching these levels and points, but to do that you climb the mountain one step at a time and we were starting on the bottom,” Drew said. “And then you have people willing to believe what you believe and what our staff believes. So the guys that laid those first bricks in the foundation, it’s great to see them rewarded.”
Mamadou Diene, Curtis Jerrells, Henry Dugat, Aaron Bruce and Kevin Rogers, known collectively as “The Foundation” were members of coach Drew’s first two recruiting classes. They led the Bears from the basement of the Big 12 to an NCAA tournament appearance in 2008 and the National Invitation Tournament finals in 2009.
“To see where the program was, and then these guys kind of take it to that next level – it was amazing,” Baylor Bear Insider Jerry Hill said. “I mean, I think it’s probably one of the best rebuilding jobs, not just in men’s basketball, but really in the history of college sports.”
Hill is a part of the seven-member selection committee for the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame and said that this was the perfect time to recognize this particular group.
“The fact that the 2020 class was elected but has not been inducted … we were looking to do a smaller class this year anyway,” Hill said. “So that’s why this just fits so well. And obviously, the timing of men’s basketball winning the national championship, it just seemed like the right time so we as a selection committee made the decision, and it had to be unanimous.”
While “The Foundation” may not have been the ones to hoist Baylor basketball’s first ever national championship trophy, they were responsible for making people fall in love with Baylor basketball again.
“Just to watch those guys get to a point where they were winning games that people didn’t think that Baylor was capable of winning, and getting us to our first NCAA Tournament in over 20 years, I was not prepared for it,” Fuentes said. “it was an amazing experience.”
However it wasn’t just what that group did during their time at Baylor that earned them the name “The Foundation.” It was also the way they were able to make Baylor an appealing program for other top recruits that would come after their time was done. Specifically the recruiting class of Jerrells, Dugat and Rodgers were all top recruits from Texas.
“What made that class special was, he [Rodgers] was from Dallas,” coach Drew said. “Henry was from the Houston area and Curtis was from Austin. So you got three really known players from different parts of the state too, which helped bring the following and bring credibility to each part of those areas to recruit for the future because everyone knew them and liked them as people.”
“We changed the course of things forever,” Rogers said in an Instagram post. “Top dogs wanted to wear Baylor across their chest off the hard work, the blood, the sweat and tears we laid down those four years. Plenty of highs and a lot of lows, but we left there knowing big change was coming.”
That big change is evident now more than ever coming off a national championship win, a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft in Sacramento Kings guard Davion Mitchell and a commitment from top-5 class of 2022 prospect Keyonte George. Not to mention the spectacular season Utah Jazz guard Jared Butler put together in his last season playing for the Bears.
This year’s induction ceremony and banquet, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29, in the Brazos Room of the Waco Convention Center, will also recognize the 2020 Hall of Fame class. Along with the 2020 class, all of the honorees from the 2021 class will also be recognized on the field during the Oct. 30 football game against the University of Texas at McLane Stadium.