When Baylor coach Scott Drew puts on his suit coat, he might find a rare Honus Wagner 1909 baseball card stuffed in his front pocket.
When he strolls into his backyard, he might find some oil gushing out of the ground.
Drew has to feel like anything can happen with the incredible hot streak he’s riding.
Three weeks after winning the NIT championship, Drew got two pieces of great news in the span of 76 hours when Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin both announced they were coming back to play for the Bears.
Drew probably would have felt fortunate to get one of them back. Both Baylor big men had productive enough seasons to join the parade of non-seniors who declared for the NBA draft.
But they both took their time, gathered information from a lot of sources, and eventually decided that returning to school would be best for them. Austin went down to the last hour before the NBA’s deadline before announcing his decision Sunday night.
“It just doesn’t happen often,” Drew said. “But it’s a tribute to Baylor and how much love and admiration they have for the school and their teammates.”
With his 7-1 frame and tremendous shooting range, Austin was projected to be a first-round pick in the June 27 draft after his freshman year. But he decided that coming back to school would allow him to gain experience and strength and give him a chance to accomplish more goals with his Baylor teammates.
“It will give me time to mature and work on my body, and it will help me and my teammates grow
closer in the long run,” Austin said. “We all want a national championship here at Baylor. The NIT championship is nothing compared to what we want to accomplish.”
Austin said he played this season with a slightly torn shoulder muscle but that didn’t affect his draft decision.
If Austin and Jefferson had declared for the draft, Drew would have had to replace four starters, including guards Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton. With the two big men returning, Baylor will probably be a preseason top 25 team and one of the favorites to win the Big 12.
Instead of an inexperienced front line, they’ll have guys who have been through the wars.
One of the reasons the Bears were so inconsistent this season was because of the inexperience up front. Both Austin and Rico Gathers were freshmen, while Jefferson was starting for the first time after two years as a backup and a redshirt season.
Jackson put up spectacular numbers in the backcourt, but the Bears often had to rely on him too much. Since the Bears lacked frontcourt depth and experience, they had to go with a three-guard lineup whether they matched up well or not.
The Bears should have much more depth and versatility next season. Austin and Jefferson could both be preseason all-Big 12 picks while Gathers should be ready to bring his powerful 6-8, 260-pound body into the starting lineup.
“This year we had a talented front line but next year we’ll have an experienced and talented front line,” Drew said. “Most coaches see the most improvement in their big men from their freshman to sophomore years. One of the hardest things to do coming into college is handle the physicality up front night in and night out.”
Forward Taurean Prince should make a bigger impact after showing promise as a freshman, while incoming freshman forwards Ishmail Wainright, Johnathan Motley and Dominic Woodson will bring in a new wave of talent.
Drew believes the practices will be much like the 2011-12 Elite Eight season when the Bears had an abundance of big men.
“I’m sure some people will say we’ll have one of the better front lines in the country, and our coaching staff would agree,” Drew said. “The last time we went to the Elite Eight, practices were a war because of the experience and depth, and I see similarities here.”
With so much talent in the paint, space should open up for Baylor’s guards. Brady Heslip didn’t get nearly as many open looks this year as the 2011-12 season, but that could change since defenses will have to focus more on Baylor’s big men.
Though he’s replacing one of the best point guards in the country, junior college transfer Kenny Chery shouldn’t feel overburdened since he’s joining a team with so many veterans.
While the Bears were excited to win the NIT, they want to make another deep run in the Big Dance. With Jefferson and Austin in the fold, they’ve got the tools to do it.