Baylor coach Scott Drew has spent the last two years assembling one of the most talented teams in all of college basketball. Now comes the next step: Doing something with it. Not many teams enter the 2011-12 season with an opportunity as golden as the one facing the Bears. Four Big 12 schools have first-year coaches, seven-time defending league champion Kansas is in rebuilding mode and the conference as a whole appears to be down. Baylor is the one exception.
The Bears’ roster features two players — forwards Perry Jones and Quincy Miller — who are projected as top-10 picks in next summer’s NBA Draft. Forwards Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones have pro potential as well. Mix in junior college point guard Pierre Jackson and Boston College transfer Brady Heslip in the backcourt, and Baylor, on paper, touts an arsenal superior to any team in the Big 12.
“We’ve definitely got a good group,” Drew says. “But it takes more than talent to win in this league or any league. It’s all about how your guys play together, how they mesh. Hopefully things will work out for us in that regard.”
Key Bears Stat: 5
The Bears have five players who stand 6'9" or taller. And all of them — Quincy Miller, Perry Jones, Anthony Jones, J'mison Morgan and Cory Jefferson — are expected to either start or contribute significantly.
For the second straight season, the Bears will boast an extraordinary blend of size, length and versatility down low. The most notable name is Perry Jones, who shocked the college basketball world in April when he announced he would bypass the NBA Draft — where he likely would’ve been a top-five pick — to return to school. Jones stands 6'11" and weighs 235 pounds, but he is hardly the typical forward. It’s not uncommon for Jones to bring the ball up the court or handle it on the perimeter before exploding toward the basket. He has excellent touch from midrange but still needs to be more assertive and play with more ferocity. Still, Jones may possess more pure talent than anyone in the college game.
Jones isn’t the only Baylor big man with a multi-faceted game. The 6'9" Miller was ranked as one of the top-10 members of the Class of 2011 by virtually every recruiting service. He has a wide array of moves both inside and outside of the paint and is an excellent long-range shooter. Miller missed his senior season of high school with a torn ACL but is expected to be healthy by the start of the upcoming season.
Returning at small forward is 6'10" senior Anthony Jones, an excellent 3-point shooter and penetrator who, like Perry Jones and Miller, handles the ball extremely well for his size. Acy is a dunk machine who will come off the bench after averaging 12.4 points as a junior. J’mison Morgan, who is 6'11", will also contribute after averaging 12.5 minutes last season.
LaceDarius Dunn, the Big 12’s all-time leading scorer, is gone, and that’s a good thing. Dunn’s poor and often selfish shot selection was one of the main reasons Baylor failed to reach the NCAA Tournament last season. With Dunn out of the mix, forwards such as Perry Jones, Anthony Jones, Miller and Acy will get more scoring opportunities — assuming, of course, that Jackson, Heslip and A.J. Walton get them the ball.
Baylor is hoping Jackson becomes the standout point guard it so sorely lacked in 2010-11. Jackson was the National Junior College Player of the Year at the College of Southern Idaho. His backcourt mate will likely be Heslip, a Canadian who has drawn comparisons to former Bears guard Aaron Bruce. Baylor’s coaches are hoping Heslip will definitely exhibit a “take charge” mentality and become the team’s vocal leader and “glue” that holds everything together. Walton will likely come off the bench along with Cal transfer Gary Franklin. The wild card is freshman Deuce Bello, a high school teammate of Miller’s tabbed by one media outlet as one of the best dunkers in the world.
Drew has orchestrated quite a turnaround in Waco. Less than 10 years after narrowly avoiding the NCAA death penalty following Patrick Dennehy’s murder, Baylor is in prime position to win the program’s first conference title since 1950. The key will be whether Drew can keep his stable of talented players happy and get them to co-exist. There are only so many minutes to go around. The other factor will be whether this group accepts coaching and learns to play with the discipline and structure that have long been missing in Waco. Street-ball won’t cut it in the Big 12.
Big 12 Prediction: 1st
NCAA Tournament Prediction: Sweet 16