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Archive for Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Baylor faces new challenge

March 19, 2008

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— Baylor's revival begins with a sordid tale, one involving the murder of a player by a former teammate and despicable acts by a former coach.

And the Bears know that story will be told over and over again now that they are in the NCAA Tournament, five years after one of the worst scandals in college basketball history.

"Thinking about days like this and thinking about going to the tournament weren't even in the picture," senior guard Aaron Bruce recalled of his arrival in the aftermath of the scandal.

The Bears (21-10), the last of the 65 teams revealed on Sunday, are the No. 11 seed in the West Regional. They play their first NCAA Tournament game in 20 years against No. 6 Purdue (24-8) in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

Scott Drew, the enthusiastic young coach who took over in 2003, has succeeded in a daunting and unprecedented task, the kind no coach should ever have to face.

"No one had really gone through something like this, you really couldn't follow a map," Drew said. "When you have so much work to do, you never have to worry about second-guessing anything because your time is monopolized. We just worked 24-7, and that's all we really could do to get things going in the right direction."

Five summers ago, former player Patrick Dennehy was murdered. Carlton Dotson confessed to the crime and is serving a 35-year prison term.

Things then unraveled quickly in the men's basketball program at the world's largest Baptist university.

School investigators determined that former coach Dave Bliss paid up to $40,000 in tuition for Dennehy and another player and improperly solicited $87,000 from boosters. In an attempt to cover up his indiscretions, Bliss wanted to portray Dennehy as a drug dealer on tapes secretly recorded by an assistant coach.

Bliss and athletic director Tom Stanton resigned, the top three scorers took advantage of relaxed transfer rules to leave, and there were NCAA and school-imposed penalties, including reduced scholarships.

As devastating as the beginning of the story is, that wasn't the end. There was the recovery from unprecedented depths and now the next remarkable chapter: playing in the Tournament for only the second time in 58 years.

There were only five scholarship players during Drew's first season, when the overmatched Bears went 8-21. But Drew built the program methodically and attracted quality players with his infectious optimism.

After a school-best 9-7 Big 12 record in the regular season, including a five-overtime victory over Texas A&M, the Bears lost in double overtime to last-place Colorado and became the first No. 5 seed to lose in the first round of the league tournament.

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