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Bears overcome tough season, roster changes

Jan. 21, 2004

By Matt Richards, reporter

Men's basketball head Coach Scott Drew knew that this summer's events would make this year's season one of the toughest in Baylor history. However, even Drew admits he underestimated the challenges this year held.

'It's a situation where there's even less room for error,' Drew said. 'I think with that, as our team looks, our goals are probably a little different too. Teams just don't replace three of their top players - especially when they're undermanned.'

Drew's first challenge was to fill a roster reduced by the loss of junior guard Kenny Taylor to the University of Texas, junior guard John Lucas to Oklahoma State University and junior forward Lawrence Roberts to Mississippi State University. The new staff scrambled to find players to fill the depleted roster, adding senior forward Robbie McKenzie during Baylor's first ever open tryout. Drew incorporated McKenzie and five other new players _ three true freshman and two transfers - into the program. In a mere four months, the team had turned over more than half of last year's roster, resulting in an entirely new lineup.

'That's why we keep our roster on a chalkboard,' Drew said. 'I think the important thing is the people who have been here have really done a good job. As hard and frustrating as it has been, we've been really pleased with the way the players have acted and responded in this situation.'

As students headed home for Christmas break and the men's basketball team headed to Hawaii for the Hawaii Surf N' Slam tournament, Drew hoped to have his roster problems settled. The team had finished a respectable 4-4 with three of those losses coming by five points or less. For the first time since the departure of former head Coach Dave Bliss, the team had a firm lineup_ or so Drew thought.

Yet roster problems still plagued the team throughout the Christmas break. On Dec. 16, junior guard Ellis Kidd, Jr. was dismissed from the program for violating team policy. Drew would not specify as to the violation but did say the dismissal was not connected to the ongoing NCAA investigation of the team.

On Jan. 3 senior forward R.T. Guinn and senior forward Terrance Thomas were suspended for the remainder of the season because of academic ineligibility.

Thomas had led the Bears, averaging 18.6 points and eight rebounds per game, and Guinn averaged 11.2 points and more than five rebounds a game. Also, both were captains, along with senior guard Matt Sayman, and had started all 11 games.

'It changes everything, X and O-wise,' Drew said. 'You only have so many weapons in the barrel. Terrance and R.T. were great on the bench, and they helped make sure we stayed focused.'

The program was in a bind. For the first time in Baylor and Big 12 basketball history, a varsity team had only five eligible scholarship athletes.

'There's no margin for error, otherwise you're looking at a huge margin,' Drew said. 'Our goal and desire is to keep it where it is competitive, and best-case scenario, give ourselves a chance to win down the stretch.'

Once again, Drew scrambled to fill the roster. The team added freshman guard Nino Etienne from Seoul, South Korea, and sophomore transfer guard Tim Bush from Louisiana State University. Because of his walk-on status, Etienne could play immediately, but Bush will be eligible after the fall 2004 semester. Drew was excited about the immediate impact of Etienne.

'We'll go anywhere to find a good walk-on,' Drew said. 'He was someone that expressed interest in Baylor a year ago and actually had visited the campus.'

The Baylor roster seemed to be solidified once again as head Coach Bobby Knight and the No. 22 Texas Tech Red Raiders traveled to Waco on Jan. 22. However, roster changes struck the program once again only days before the game. But this time, Drew received a late Christmas gift courtesy of the NCAA.

On Jan. 16, upon appeal by Michael Rogers - Baylor's faculty representative to the NCAA - Guinn and Thomas were granted waivers of academic eligibility. An NCAA membership services team reviewed the waiver requests and decided to reinstate both Thomas and Guinn.

'While this waiver decision by the NCAA staff is based on the merits, it is full of grace and understanding,' Rogers said. 'It was granted because of the totality of circumstances and events of the past six months, which have been unique and unimaginable.'

The reinstatement of Guinn and Thomas helped to lift the spirits of the Bears against Tech. The Bears - a team that critics believed wouldn't be able to compete against Big 12 teams - were able to compete with the Red Raiders. The Bears fell to Texas Tech, 75-66.

For most of the faculty, staff and students at Baylor, the Christmas season gave them a chance to relax with loved ones and an opportunity to look forward to the promise of a new year. However, for Drew and his staff, this Christmas break will be one they never forget.

'Every day at work is an adventure,' Drew said. 'We've had things happen this season that would only happen once in an entire year. It makes for tough season. We've had a lot, but we can control only what we can control.'