10 things you should know about Baylor basketball
by Derek Smith, MA ’05
Late last March, Baylor fans found themselves in a position that’s rare, yet familiar. The Bears and Lady Bears had advanced to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend, allowing Baylor fans to share a privilege with just five other schools nationally—the chance to cheer on both the men and women in the 2014 Sweet 16.
While the two leading scorers and many key contributors from last year’s teams have graduated and gone on to the next level, a number of returning players and new contributors are ready to maintain the high standards of Baylor basketball.
Here are a few team notes to help you prepare for the upcoming 2014-15 Bears and Lady Bears.
- Senior Kenny Chery, who led the Bears to a 12-3 record after returning from injury last season, will be a focal point again this season. The Canadian-born point guard finished second in assists (174) among returning Big 12 point guards, and he led the Big 12 with a .879 free throw percentage.
- The Bears will face a challenging non-conference slate in preparation for Big 12 play, highlighted by three SEC opponents. They travel to South Carolina Nov. 18 for the ESPN Tipoff Marathon and to Vanderbilt Dec. 4 as part of the ESPN SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Then, the Battle of the Brazos returns Dec. 9 at the Ferrell Center, as the Bears resume their rivalry with Texas A&M.
- You might have noticed redshirt freshmen Allerik Freeman and Johnathan Motley warming up before games last season. After waiting in the wings for a year, Freeman, a 6’3,” 200-pound guard from Charlotte, N.C., and Motley, a 6’9” post player from Houston, will be counted on by the Bears this year, and both could be starters as the season progresses.
- Cory Jefferson was well known for his green-and-gold Baylor sleeve in addition to his stellar post play. While Jefferson has taken his game to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, the sleeve remains with the Bears. At the team banquet following last season, Jefferson bequeathed it to Jonathan Motley, symbolically passing the torch to a player who will follow in his footsteps this season.
- Senior forward Royce O’Neale proved to be a versatile asset for the Bears last season and elevated his game greatly in the postseason. The Killeen native tied Kenny Chery for the team lead in assists in the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments and finished second in rebounding, behind Cory Jefferson, averaging 8.6 points and 8.3 rebounds.
- Sophomore Nina Davis, Baylor’s leading returning scorer (15.0 ppg) and reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year, needed little time to adjust to the rigors of college basketball. The Memphis native led the Big 12 in both rebounding (8.9 rpg) and field goal percentage (.595) in her first season in green and gold, leaving Baylor Nation eager to see what she can do for an encore.
- The Lady Bears will test themselves in preparation for the Big 12 season with strong road games against Kentucky Nov. 17 and Ole Miss Dec. 7, as well as an appearance in the Florida Sunshine Tournament against Syracuse and Michigan State Dec. 19-20. Two of the Lady Bears’ most memorable contests came against Kentucky last year, as the Lady Bears fell 133-130 in a four-overtime December game (the highest scoring game in NCAA women’s basketball history) before gaining revenge in the Sweet 16, defeating the Wildcats 90-72 to advance to the Elite Eight.
- Head coach Kim Mulkey expects her point guards to take care of the basketball, and junior Niya Johnson certainly accomplished that last season. Johnson led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio last season at nearly 4:1 (244 to 61). Her 244 assists set the Baylor single-season record and led the Big 12.
- Alexis Prince persevered through an injury- plagued 2014-15 campaign, appearing in just four games due to a foot injury. The silver lining, though, is another year of eligibility for the redshirt sophomore, beginning her third season at Baylor. Coming off of foot surgery in January, the 6’1” guard will be counted on to carry some of the scoring mantle left by Odyssey Sims.
- She isn’t Sune Agbuke, Esquire—yet. However, the San Antonio native is a Baylor Law School student after earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and pre-law in her three seasons playing for the Lady Bears.
The Lady Bears will host exhibition games against Midwestern State Nov. 4 and Tarleton State Nov. 10 before opening up the regular season at Kentucky.
The men tip off 2014 with a home game against McNeese State Nov. 14.