WACO, Texas — It was a vision few had of the green and gold at the time. But the run Baylor is poised to continue in Indianapolis is one Scott Drew had visions of when he left Valparaiso for Waco in August 2003.
“When we first came down here, he wanted to be the Duke of the southwest,” former Baylor Assistant Coach Mark Morefield said.
When Drew took the reigns in Waco, the program dealt with the fall-out of a scandal surrounding the murder of one of its players. Morefield was an assistant for Drew, and before that his father Homer, at Valpo before going to Waco.
He spent eight seasons building the foundation for the Bears’ program alongside its winningest coach.
“He really didn’t give me the choice to stay at Valpo or go to Baylor, he just said, ‘We’re going,’” Morefield recalled.
Along the way, there were more than a few roadblocks. One of which was selling Baylor to recruits and their families while the program dealt with sanctions and mass transfers out of one of the worst scandals to plague college sports.
“Mothers, fathers and coaches are concerned,” Morefield said. “They don’t want to let their sons go somewhere when they see everything that they’re reading in the media.”
Then, in Drew’s third year in Waco, Baylor wasn’t allowed to play a single non-conference game due to NCAA sanctions placed on the program. That immediately followed the program self-imposing a postseason ban in 2004-05, including the Big 12 Conference Tournament.
So, imagine everyone’s surprise in 2008 when Baylor found itself on the NCAA Tournament bracket for the first time since Drew’s arrival.
“Four years removed from what happened and you’re going to the NCAA Tournament,” Morefield said. “I mean, you’re talking about a program that was decimated.”
But that one-and-done Tournament run in 2008 is what Morefield said was the catalyst for the success the Bears have sustained since. In 2009, they made the NIT Final Four with future NBA lottery pick Ekpe Udoh sitting out due to NCAA transfer restrictions.
In 2010, Baylor was within seven points of eventual champion Duke in the Elite Eight. The Final Four that year was at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The same place as in 2021.
“I think that showed those future recruits you could come here and be successful,” Morefield said when he thought back on that showdown at NRG Stadium in Houston.
One of the reasons recruits saw that potential for success was the run Udoh had in the NCAA Tournament, which helped him get taken sixth overall in that summer’s NBA Draft.
“You know, that whole year, we always fought,” Udoh said. “We stayed close, it was never a blowout. Then, when we got to the tournament, we got that feeling that we were one of those teams that could make a run.”
Fast forward from that Sunday afternoon in Houston to 2021, the Baylor Bears are on the verge of making history, just two wins from their first Final Four since 1950. All thanks to a vision.
“To win at a high level, make deep tournament runs and compete for championships,” Morefield said.
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