Drew Has the Bears Roaring Back

Coach Scott Drew, front, and assistant Matthew Driscoll have made their points after just five seasons in Waco.
Coach Scott Drew, front, and assistant Matthew Driscoll have made their points after just five seasons in Waco. (By Duane A. Laverty -- Associated Press)
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By Steve Yanda
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, March 20, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- During the summer of 2003, when darkness blanketed the Waco, Tex., landscape, Jerome Tang's gut wrenched and his heart fluttered. One of his adopted sons, Lamar Hurd, had thought about playing basketball at Baylor. He even had given an oral commitment to the Bears.

Good thing Lamar decided to de-commit and headed to Oregon State instead. Good thing Lamar changed his mind and was 2,200 miles away from that mess.

What was going on at Baylor, anyway? A player goes missing? Then he's found in a gravel pit with gunshot wounds to the head? A teammate shot him? The head coach is telling his players to lie to investigators? The head coach is resigning? So is the athletic director? Should Richard Hurd, Lamar's brother and Tang's other adopted son, really go play basketball there after all?

The questions overwhelmed Tang, then the head boys' basketball coach at Heritage Christian Academy in Cleveland, Tex.

"As a high school coach, you took your hands back and said, 'Wow, I don't know about that situation,' " Tang said. "But as soon as they hired Coach [Scott] Drew, it was like a light shown in Waco, Texas. There's just an attraction to light, and I think that's why the program has turned."

After years of irrelevancy followed by years of consternation, Baylor finally has a legitimate men's basketball program. Confirmation came Sunday, when the Bears were awarded a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament. They play Purdue in the first round Thursday at Verizon Center.

But when Tang, now an assistant coach at Baylor, spoke last Thursday evening, he did so battling mixed emotions. The Bears had just thrown away the fifth seed in the Big 12 tournament. They fell in double-overtime to 12th-seeded Colorado in the first round.

Drew answered questions in his postgame news conference that would never have been asked one year ago, much less five. What went wrong? Why couldn't your players capitalize on opportunities? Will you now feel uneasy on Selection Sunday?

Those questions, however, provided a strange sense of comfort to Drew, Tang and the rest of the Bears (21-10). At least they were in a position to be criticized, rather than pitied.

"If you look at the composite of what we've done this year . . . it is just unbelievable," said Tang, whose adopted son, Richard Hurd, is now a senior forward for Baylor. "Where we've come from to right now, I think, it means so much to our fans, to our program. I think our program is one of the hottest programs in the country."

Players, coaches and administrators agree that credit for the program's facelift begins and ends with Drew. When he took over in August 2003, the program was in dire need of stability.

Patrick Dennehy, then a junior forward at Baylor, was shot and killed by teammate Carlton Dotson in July 2003. Upon confessing that he had paid a portion of Dennehy's tuition not covered by financial aid (an NCAA violation), then-head coach Dave Bliss resigned on Aug. 8, 2003. The athletic director at the time, Tom Stanton, resigned as well.

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