With 7:35 left in the second half and a media timeout due at the next dead ball, Scott Drew got the attention of the officials and called a timeout. His final one. The Baylor Bears were down by just one point in what was sure to be a game that came down to the final minutes. However, they would be without any timeouts for the rest of the game.
It shouldn’t have surprised anyone in Hilton Coliseum on that frigid January afternoon. Cyclone fans saw Drew do the same thing just a season before at almost the exact same point in the ballgame (8:07 left in the second half). The result? Two gigantic road wins over the Cyclones that would put Iowa State’s Big 12 title hopes on life support each season.
His unorthodox use of timeouts grew to become the butt of a lot of jokes from Big 12 fans (Iowa State fans and myself included). It seemed everything the guy did we found a way to discredit. The “Scott Drew can’t coach” shtick had grown to become a Cyclone staple. If we’ve learned anything the past few months, it’s that people will begin to believe what they hear the most and the loudest.
As I sheepishly walked out of Hilton Coliseum last January, I started to question this Cyclone axiom. What if Scott Drew was actually a good coach? I found myself gasping for air. It could have been the sub-zero temperatures or me relying on the northern winds to push my equator-sized waistline back to my car, but I’d like to believe part of it was that absolute bewilderment stowed upon me at that moment that Scott Drew might be a good coach.
Hindsight tells us we shouldn’t have been so damn surprised. Had Scott Drew been sauntering along the sidelines at Allen Fieldhouse or Cameron Indoor Stadium all of these years, we might not be having this conversation. His accomplishments as a coach may have been rightfully acknowledged and we would have grown to appreciate his quirks. Yet, up until this season, Scott Drew had drawn the ire of college basketball fans across the nation.
This season, public opinion on Scott Drew is starting to shift — and it’s about time. Not everyone is new to the Scott Drew bandwagon though. On a recent WRNL podcast, college basketball writer Reid Forgrave and I discussed the stigma surrounding Scott Drew. Reid gushed about the young coach and made a case for why he has been a fan since he arrived in Waco. That conversation prompted the urge to write this piece. I’ll give credit to Reid and others who have admired Drew for years. For the rest of us, we are just starting to see the light.
When the Cyclones roll into the Ferrell Center in Waco Wednesday night, they’ll be opposing one of three undefeated teams left in the country. Not only is their record unblemished, but their resume is arguably the best in the entire country with numerous big-time wins. There will always be people in the “Scott Drew can’t coach” camp no matter what he does, but for the rest of us it shouldn’t have taken this long to recognize what he has built in Waco.
To fully respect the rise of Baylor basketball you have to realize where they came from. With just three NCAA tournament wins to their name before 2003, the Bears have nearly three times that total (8) in Drew’s tenure. Twice, Scott Drew and the Bears have been one win away from the Final Four. To go with their two Elite Eight appearances they’ve tacked on an additional Sweet Sixteen appearance. That’s a pretty good success rate for six NCAA tournament appearances.
The naysayers will point to early exits the last two seasons to Georgia State and Yale. “How can he mess that up with so much talent?” they will say. I’d invite you to look no further than Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils to find that no one is immune to early round exits. If that doesn’t do it for you, just dust off the DVR and re-watch the UAB game. I know some of you sick fans still have it on there.
Those of you who still have to show your ID to buy beer may not remember the day when Baylor’s basketball program was the most scandal ridden and embarrassing program in the country. A scandal that included a teammate murdering another teammate, drug use and coaches paying players left Baylor with one of the harshest penalties the NCAA has given, excluding the death penalty. It was immediately after this scandal became public that Scott Drew took over.
After one year at Valparaiso, Drew packed up his bags for Waco in late August. The program would be under probation for the next seven years. He would have to work with limited scholarships and fewer paid recruiting visits. The Bears would not be allowed to play any non-conference games in the 2005-06 season. Yet, in just five short years, Scott Drew would have Baylor back in the NCAA tournament.
In an era of hot takes and recruiting scandals, anyone with surprising success is labeled a cheater. I’ve been as guilty as anyone when it comes to making snide “bag man” remarks about Scott Drew and his recruiting. I mean HOW ELSE could a man who didn’t play high school varsity basketball re-energize a program that (for good reason) was supposed to be left for dead?
As much courage and intestinal fortitude as it took to take over the bad news Bears in 2003, I would have to believe it would take some serious brain trauma to cheat at a school just months removed from one of the biggest scandals in NCAA history. After all, the NCAA was going to be looking at Baylor with a fine tooth comb for decades to come. If you decide to use the “everybody cheats” narrative, that is fine. Lazy, but fine. Just don’t throw stones at guys like Drew while putting the Bill Self’s of the world on a pedestal.
This Baylor Bears squad might be the best of the Scott Drew era. They’ve put together a resume that is worthy of a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and they look poised to at least challenge Kansas’ reign as Big 12 basketball champions. With an adjusted offense and defense both among the top 10 in the nation, it’s hard to find an area of weakness with this squad. Sure, Baylor will lose some games this season, but it’s not because Scott Drew can’t coach.
As Iowa State fans, the curious case of Scott Drew should probably teach us a lesson about patience. Let me be clear, Iowa State isn’t anywhere close to being in the same spot the Bears were in 2003. There are, however, some parallels between the rise of both Scott Drew and Steve Prohm. Growth isn’t always linear and progress doesn’t always show its face immediately after it is made.
At no point do I ever want Iowa State to model Baylor in anything. There are things worse than losing and Baylor fans have endured several of them in the last two decades. I don’t imagine many of you will be rooting for Baylor this season and I don’t fault you for that. My plea to you is to resist falling into the tired narratives surrounding Scott Drew this season. This man can coach and deserves to be mentioned with some of the best in the country.
As the calendar has turned to 2017, some of you are still searching for that unique New Year’s resolution. It’s admirable to hop on the treadmill for two weeks or give up guacamole until the Super Bowl, but it takes a special type of person to eat more crow. If you are willing, please join me with my 2017 resolution.
I plan to stop hating on Scott Drew.