What Baylor Might Have Been

March 01, 2004

The 2003-04 college basketball season was supposed to help Baylor
put the tragic events of last summer behind it. Instead, the
games have reminded the Bears and their supporters of how much
was lost. In the wake of forward Patrick Dennehy's murder (for
which teammate Carlton Dotson has been charged) and the
resignation of coach Dave Bliss over payment improprieties, the
team's three best players transferred--point guard John Lucas III
to Oklahoma State, center Lawrence Roberts to Mississippi State
and guard Kenny Taylor to Texas. With each playing a key role on
a team ranked in the Top 10, it's not hard to imagine that trio
of juniors forming the nucleus of a Baylor squad that would be
jockeying for an NCAA tournament bid. "Everyone in the Big 12
knew that Baylor was moving into the top half of the league,"
Texas coach Rick Barnes says. "I'm not surprised at all at how
well those guys are playing."

The transfers of Lucas and Taylor had a particularly acute impact
on the Big 12 race because if they were still at Baylor, they
wouldn't have helped boost Oklahoma State (No. 6 nationally) and
Texas (No. 10) to first and second place, respectively. Starters
for the Bears, both players have shown significant improvement
this season--Lucas, the Cowboys' quarterback, is second in the
conference in assists (4.8 average at week's end), and Taylor
(averaging 7.8 points in 18.5 minutes per game) is an important
reserve for the Longhorns. "Roberts was always a monster in our
league, but I'm not sure Texas and Oklahoma State realized what
they were getting," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson says. "That
third year is when guys usually take off."

Instead of vying for a Big 12 title, Baylor, using just seven
scholarship players, has a 2-10 conference record (7-18 overall).
Terrance Thomas, a 6'6" senior forward, and 6'8" junior forward
Harvey Thomas have struggled against defenses that would have
been focused on Roberts and Lucas. Freshman Carl Marshall, a
5'10" guard, has shot the ball well, but he should be providing a
spark off the bench, not starting. Such a shorthanded,
inexperienced crew might overachieve under a veteran coach, but
the Bears are directed by 32-year-old Scott Drew, who heads the
nation's youngest staff. The season has not daunted Drew. "Even
though we're not getting a lot of wins, I think we're
reestablishing what the Baylor basketball program is about," he
says.

The saddest absence, of course, is Dennehy's. In his memory
Baylor's players are wearing a black stripe on their jerseys,
another reminder of what might have been.

--Seth Davis

COLOR PHOTO: REUTERS (DENNEHY) AFTERSHOCK Baylor has missed Dennehy (top), Taylor (above, left)and Lucas. COLOR PHOTO: WILLIAM ROWE/ICON SMI (TAYLOR) [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: DWAIN SCOTT/WIREIMAGE.COM [See caption above]

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