The Bear is finally out of its den, making noise and making name for itself in college basketball. And boy...what a long hibernation its been.
Baylor is in its first Sweet 16 in school history and will be the favorite when they take the court Friday against St. Mary's in Houston. In fact, the Bears were actually a popular pick to reach the Final Four this year. And no that's not a misprint ... the Bears are a possible Final Four team.
But the journey to Reliant Stadium wasn't easy and it sure wasn't pretty. In 2003, Baylor was at the center of the NCAA world for all the wrong reasons. Bears' transfer Patrick Dennehy was murdered by a fellow teammate. Days after his funeral, head coach Dave Bliss resigned amid allegations he tried to cover up Dennehy's death, paid players and covered up drug use within the team. To say this program was in shambles is a dire understatement.
The fallout was harsh and swift. Bliss was never criminally charged, but banned from the game for 10 years.
The program lost numerous scholarships. Administrators pulled the team out of any post-season play in 2004. And in 2005, they played no out of conference games, a first in NCAA history. Salt was added to wound when their three best players left the program to lead other schools to successful tourney runs. It was a near death penalty in basketball, and we all know its taken SMU more than two decades for its football program to come back to life.
Baylor needed a lifeline, and that came in the form of Scott Drew. Drew was 33-years-old at the time and hardly had any coaching experience, but he was overly optimistic and considered a relentless recruiter.
He did just that, somehow managing to talk some top talent into moving to Waco. I lived in Waco for two years, and believe me, that's hard to do. But the wins, talent, and stability slowly started coming Baylor's way, and a school known for its Christian values was essentially born again.
Baylor finally crashed the big dance two years ago, advanced to the NIT Championship game last year, and are in the Sweet 16 this year. This year's squad has a school record for wins, and Drew continues to out-recruit the big boys in the Big 12.
You may not be a Baylor fan and many Big 12 coaches would argue Drew's recruiting practices border on out of bounds, but its hard not to root for them, especially when you see how far the program has come.
Just 7 years ago, Baylor basketball program was nearly a dead man walking. Drew brought it back to life and the Bears have a great shot to make even more noise in this tournament. An amazing turnaround. Even Hollywood would be hard pressed to come up with this script.