They were there to show their best stuff. Executing layups, free throws, jump shots and three-pointers, 35 Big 12 basketball hopefuls left the Ferrell Center wondering if their best would be enough to impress Baylor's new head coach. Scott Drew was looking for a few good men to help out a seriously depleted 2003-04 roster. He found one.
Junior Robbie McKenzie, a pre-med and University Scholars student, received a phone call the next morning: "Get ready for practice. You've made the team," he was told.
"I had a lot of emotions flying around," McKenzie said. "I was nervous from Monday night until I got the call Tuesday morning, and then I was wound up pretty tight all day long."
Drew and his coaching staff began searching for additional players as soon as they arrived at Baylor in mid-August, taking over a team decimated by one player's death, another's murder charge and a former head coach involved in an attempted cover-up. The staff searched the world, pulling in center Mamadou Diene of Senegal and guard Aaron Bruce of Australia for the 2004-05 season. But Drew looked a little closer to home to find help for this year, holding open tryouts on campus in October.
McKenzie's height -- 6 feet, 5 inches -- was what initially impressed Drew, but the young man's athletic background and skill clinched the decision. "Robbie is someone who has height, and that is something this team needed," Drew said. "He is a great kid and a good representative of the Baylor student."
At Callisburg High School in Gainesville, Texas, McKenzie lettered three years in three sports -- basketball, football and track. He was a starter on the varsity basketball team and was first-team all-district his junior and senior years. He also lettered in track, winning the 2000 district championship in triple jump. The same year, he placed third in the district in the long jump and the 400-meter run. He also lettered one year in football.
Trying out for Baylor's basketball team never crossed McKenzie's mind until his friends suggested it. With the mind-set that it would be a win-win situation, he amped up his regular workouts and went into training. "Even if I didn't make the team, at least it made me get in good shape," he said. "It seemed like a good opportunity to come out and play. I knew a lot of the guys from playing against them in the offseason."
And win he did. He was the only walk-on selected that day for the team, and he's making the most of his opportunity. Early in the season, he was averaging about six minutes of play per game as either a guard or forward. Even better for him, though, have been the relationships this season has fostered. "Being on the team has been an opportunity to build friendships and get to know some extraordinary people," he said. "It's been amazing."
Long term, though, McKenzie will be more focused on flu shots than foul shots; after graduation and a year off, he will attend medical school. "I'm undecided about what exactly I'll be doing in that year, but I plan on being involved with foreign medical missions," he said.
As a University Scholar, McKenzie must maintain at least a 3.5 GPA, but he isn't concerned about balancing academics and athletics. "I've always enjoyed staying in shape, and I've probably logged as much time at the SLC [McLane Student Life Center] as at the library during my time at Baylor," he said. "Now that I'm on the team, I just get to work out at the Ferrell Center."