Baylor hopes to be motivated by lasting NCAA tourney image
Coach Scott Drew and the Baylor Bears will never forget one of the lasting images from last season's NCAA Tournament. They were on the losing side of it.
''That experience hopefully will motivate us this year,'' Drew said.
Instead of making a run at a fourth Sweet 16 appearance in six years, the Bears were done after only one tournament game after leading by 12 with under 3 minutes left. Georgia State scored the game's last 13 points, including R.J. Hunter's 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left that prompted his father, and coach, to fall out of his chair on the sideline.
''When, hopefully, I'm 80, 90 years old, and unfortunately I'll probably still remember that game,'' Drew said. ''But when the players have that burning desire and they're the ones that have that experience, that's even more beneficial. So hopefully at the end of this year that's something that will have helped us.''
Two senior starters return - 6-foot-8, 275-pound power forward Rico Gathers and guard Lester Medford - along with 6-9 sophomore forward Johnathan Motley.
Taurean Prince was Baylor's primary sixth man last season, but the 6-7 senior forward was the team's leading scorer at 13.9 points a game and is expected to be in a starting role now.
But the Bears have to replace two-year starting point guard Kenny Chery (11.3 points, 4.1 assists per game) and forward Royce O'Neal (10.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists per game), two players Drew said were also ''great leaders and individuals.''
Some things to know about the 2015-16 Baylor Bears:
REBOUNDING RICO: Gathers led the Big 12 last season with 11.6 rebounds a game, and also averaged 11.6 points, making him the only power-five conference player with more than 11 points and 11 rebounds a game. But he shot only 46 percent from the field and 62 percent on free throws. Drew said the big man spent a lot of time in the gym during the offseason. ''If he can become a 75, 80-percent free throw shooter, his production is going to go way up,'' Drew said. ''His jump shot has improved. It's a lot softer, a lot better rotation.''
WORKING PRINCE: During the summer, Prince started for the USA team that won the bronze medal in the Pan Am Games. ''This summer really took his game to another level,'' Drew said. ''Just the confidence he was able to gain from that. The way he's approaching each and every day in practice, it's great to see.''
KING AND WE: King McClure and Wendell Mitchell, a pair of 6-3 shooting guards, were two of the top recruits in Texas and could immediately contribute for the Bears. McClure averaged 24 points and 3.2 steals in 113 prep games at Triple-A Academy in Dallas, while Mitchell averaged 25.6 points and 3.6 steals in 123 games for Rockdale High. The third Baylor freshman is versatile guard Jake Lindsey, the 6-5 son of former Baylor player and current Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey.
LONE STAR SUCCESS: The Bears are 47-9 against Texas teams over the past six seasons, after going 10-27 against in-state opponents in Drew's first six seasons. Baylor is coming off consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history.
THE SCHEDULE: Baylor will leave the state of Texas only once before its Big 12 opener Jan. 2 at Kansas. The Bears open the season Nov. 13 at home against Stephen F. Austin, then play at Oregon three nights later. Their only other non-conference games off campus are at Texas A&M and against Hardin-Simmons at Fort Hood, an Army base about an hour from Waco.