Holy Smokes, They Did It

Baylor Men's Basketball Won the NCAA Championship.

I’m a Baylor guy, and I’m a basketball fan. On Monday night, the Baylor men’s basketball team won the NCAA Championship.

I still can’t believe it.

The Bears got their One Shining Moment.

Baylor Head Basketball Coach Scott Drew has the same number of college basketball titles as Kansas’ Bill Self. Baylor has more championships than either the University of Texas or Texas A&M. One is more than zero.

On Monday, it was weird to see Coach Drew talked about as a potential candidate for the College Basketball Hall of Fame. My friend Ryan pointed out that Drew would have to average 25 wins a season for the next decade to rank among the top 100 coaches in the career wins category. I’ve listened to sports personalities ridicule Drew for years, labeling him as a goofy dunce who could land talent but who didn’t know how to assemble or coach a team.

I quit believing those narratives after the 2013-2014 season.

That year, Drew’s team featured Kenny Chery at point guard and Cory Jefferson at forward. Other key players on that squad were Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers, Royce O’Neale and Brady Heslip, and young players like Taurean Prince, Johnathan Motley, and Ish Wainwright.

I had high hopes for that squad. Isaiah Austin was expected to be a star. Gathers was built like Hercules and owned the boards. Heslip was a fantastic shooter who may have actually worn a monocle off the court. Chery was expected to be solid as a transfer.

But out of the gate in conference play they were a mess. They went 2-8 in the first ten games. I thought Coach Drew had lost the team—and the program.

Then to my surprise they went on a 7-1 tear, advanced to the Big 12 Conference Tournament Final (they lost to Iowa State), and made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

After that season, I was ready to offer Coach Drew a lifetime contract. I had no power to do so. But I said to my best friend, “As long as he wants to coach at Baylor, he’s my guy.”

They’ve been solid ever since, with a winning record in league play every year except one—the 2017-2018 campaign.

The past two years they’ve fielded their best teams. The team hasn’t featured highly rated high school talent. Instead, they pulled together an eclectic group of young men—some who chose Baylor, some who were transfer athletes, and all guys who matured as they came together as a team.

Drew used to field teams with one solid point guard, one shooter, and a lot of length. This year, they went seven or eight deep. The roster had outstanding athletes at all positions, multiple ball handlers, one big who was excellent on the pick and roll (Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua), and numerous shooters.

And, Matthew Mayer’s outstanding mullet is worthy of praise.

With the increase in athleticism on the inside and outside, Baylor also began playing man to man defense. After years of watching them confuse lesser teams with a 2-3 zone, this was the most exciting shift. Excellent man to man defense is fun to watch—it accelerates the pace of the game, and, when you’re good enough, results in domination of the opposition. If you watched the semi-final and the final, Baylor smothered Houston and Gonzaga.

Baylor won a Men’s Basketball Championship. Wow.

Lastly, I’ll note that in the past three to five years the landscape in college basketball has been changing. Older coaches are retiring, major programs have been caught up in scandal, and the NBA has opened up opportunities for players out of high school to join their developmental league.

That created an opening for Baylor—a school that was already a long shot to win a title—and they kicked the door down.

Baylor will get to hang a banner.

Even better, we’ll have the memories of an incredible season, a remarkable squad, and the improbable triump of Scott Drew and his staff.

Sic’em Bears.

Book Notes

Last week I finished John Graves’ Goodbye to a River. I ordered my own copy to keep around. It’s a memoir, set on the Brazos. It’s beautifully written, textured, and grounded, not only in its connection to a history, but in Graves telling of a place.

My coming-of-age wilderness was smaller and more confined—it was a forest, a natural place with wonders to see, resources to rely upon, and strange people occasionally found on its trails, at least from time to time. I didn’t hunt or fish in that forest. I built forts and I played, did plenty of walking and hiking, and set off my fair share of fireworks. I took a lot of target practice out there, not with an over-under shotgun (like Graves), but instead with a Red Ryder. As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen those tracts of land change as roads were cut through and lots were developed. I’ve changed, too.

While David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is still on my stack, I haven’t turned a page of it in the last fourteen days.

I’ve started Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, and already find Grand Admiral Thrawn an interesting villain, one I want to learn more about.

I’ve also picked up Greg Kot’s Wilco: Learning How to Die.

Sights and Sounds

The April playlist is out and includes selections from The Doors, Foo Fighters, New Order, Guy Clark, and Jerry Jeff Walker.

We’re on the third episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney +).

As for movies, I watched the 2017 film Blade of the Immortal and a 2005 documentary, Gerhard Richter: 4 Decades. Here’s a showcase of Richter’s work.

Last Words

Last week I commented on a New York Times article about Instagram’s empty religious offerings and whether those finding them vacuous will venture toward traditions of greater substance and solidity, wrote about something I’ve noticed about Bible teachers and preachers who study Greek and Hebrew, and passed along an argument that states if the resurrection of Jesus is true, other questions will sort themselves out in due time.

Before I go, standard copy.

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P. S. - My son made a sign which he displayed during the game.