New players boost programNov. 18, 2005
by JOSHUA FLANAGAN, contributor
Depth, versatility, excitement -- these are a few buzzwords heard more often around the Ferrell Special Events Center this season.
Four new freshmen chomping at the bit to play some basketball is the reason.
Baylor men's basketball freshmen guards Curtis Jerrells and Henry Dugat provide depth to the position behind Aaron Bruce. Forwards Kevin Rogers and Jari Vanttaja join redshirt freshman Mamadou Diene to bring fresh faces to the post positions.
The freshmen and their talents provide quality depth to a Baylor team that needs it. For instance, last year the team carried one scholarship player (senior Tommy Swanson) over 6 feet 6 inches. The team has four this year. More height equals more rebounding. More rebounding equals more chances for points.
Swanson isn't the only player to get help this year. Dugat and Jerrells push Bruce daily.
"They make me better. I get better every day in practice," Bruce said. "I work as hard as I can. They work as hard as they can. We keep each other motivated. That's the way it should work in a program."
Rogers and Vanttaja do the same for Swanson and other post players.
"It's fun. It's something new each day," Swanson said. "We're going to get everybody's best effort. It's like a partnership. It's a mutual respect for one another."
Today the men will put on a scrimmage after the Lady Bears game, as well as a dunk contest and 3-point shooting contest. While some might overlook the importance of the scrimmage, Drew does not.
"The depth helps us simulate competitive games. We just couldn't do that last year," he said.
For some teams, depth is a luxury. Drew said it's more than just a safety net for Baylor.
"Some nights you're on. Some you're off," Drew said. "Without that depth and without those interchangeable parts, when something is broken, you're in trouble if you don't have a replacement."
Interchangeable parts are another key component the freshmen add to the team.
Both freshmen guards can run the point guard position as well as play shooting guard. With versatility at the guard position, Drew said the team can push the tempo and run the floor easier.
"They will allow us to play the game at a faster pace because now we have guys that can push it more," Drew said.
His players understand.
"Some tempo," Jerrells said when asked what the freshmen can bring to the team. "Henry and I are real quick. Kevin can run the floor well. Jari can shoot it."
Both Rogers and Vanttaja can shoot well enough that they bring variety to the post positions.
Drew said he likes their talents because, depending on the particular game, both players can shoot over a tough player in the post or they can post up a smaller player.
"They just label me as a player," Rogers said of the coaches. "They don't really give me a position. They just say, 'Here is a kid that just knows how to play and can get things done.'"
Swanson labels Rogers an exciting player in the mold of former Baylor high-flyer Terry Black, capable of throwing down "amazing" dunks. Swanson said he continues to be impressed with the freshman class.
"You see players in the league that progress to the level (Vanttaja, Rogers, Jerrells and Dugat) are at now, so they're really ahead of their time," Swanson said.
The four are causing excitement while still adjusting to college and even a new country for Vanttaja. However, all the freshmen say team leaders like Swanson and Bruce help.
"The guys that were already here are really good leaders," Jerrells said. "We teach them some things. They teach us a whole lot of things."
Jerrells said the team bonded "like glue" over the summer and Bruce said that's one of the most positive aspects of the freshmen.
"I'm really impressed with their work ethic. They've done a great job fitting in," Bruce said. "That's one of the biggest things we've improved on from last season to this season. We have great team chemistry, and we all want to play for each other every day."
It's evident among the freshmen as they jaw back and forth about the dunk contest that at least three of them will enter.
"I'm going to win it. Put that in (the Lariat)," Dugat said. And with a finger pointed to Rogers, "I want him to see it."
Rogers said he was the favorite. Jerrells just shook his head and laughed.
"I'm just going to enjoy it and have some fun," Jerrells said.
If the freshmen can deliver this season, they might help the team enjoy some fun in the postseason.