With the season opener just about one week away, LHN had the pleasure of sitting down for a Q&A session with the Baylor Bear Pit. The Bear Pit provided some great insight into the key members of the Baylor squad, potential line-up combinations, and expectations for the upcoming season. Enjoy!
1.) Why don’t you tell everyone at Lehigh about what the Baylor Bear Pit is and what you guys do to support the Baylor basketball team?
The Baylor Bear Pit is a student organization at Baylor designed to support and cheer on the Bears’ basketball team to victory. We sit behind the baskets and try to be as loud and enthusiastic as possible. We have cheers that we do, but our most famous one is the Sic’ em, where we all form bear claws with our hands and then ‘slash’ through our opponent taking out their heart. The Bear Pit is open to any Baylor student and is filled on a first come, first serve basis.
2.) Everyone knows about the two returning starters from last year’s team in guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip, but who do the fans expect to fill the other 3 spots vacated by the departures of Acy, Jones, and Miller?
Yes, Heslip and Jackson bring back a tremendous amount of experience in the backcourt. Brady knocks down three-point jumpers like its his job and Jackson is a true leader of this team running the point. He was able to make shots in big games last year, including Mississippi State, West Virginia, Kansas. He can also find the open man with great court vision. In terms of who will replace the future NBA stars Acy, Jones III, Miller, it could be anybody on the Baylor bench. Those who did not get many minutes will have a great opportunity such as Cory Jefferson, A.J. Walton, or J’Mison Morgan (who sat out last year after transferring from UCLA). The freshman, all five played in the exhibition, also have an opportunity to replace last year’s stars barring any redshirts, which are still possible. The biggest name is 7’ 1’’ center Isaiah Austin who towers over others on the court, but Rico Gathers can also be a force in the paint. The bench is deep and whoever steps up in practice and game-situations see the floor.
3.) Over the last few years, Baylor has had as much size in the frontcourt as almost anyone in the country, but this year’s team seems to be very deep in the backcourt with Watson, Bello, Rose and Franklin, so do you envision more 3 guard line-ups this year?
In our exhibition game against Abilene Christian University, Coach Scott Drew started three guards in Heslip, Jackson, A.J. Walton and two forwards/centers in Austin and Cory Jefferson. In the first wave of subs, three more guards, Rose, Deuce Bello, and Gary Franklin, and two forwards, Gathers and Morgan, came in for the starting five. I believe to expect more of the same throughout the season because we have a lot of speed in the guards who can also shoot lights out and control the tempo of the offense. We still have size in the frontcourt, however, I expect to us to run whenever we get the chance.
4.) What were the big takeaways from the preseason game versus Abilene Christian? How did the highly touted freshman class in Rose, Gathers, and Austin look?
The biggest takeaway from the game against ACU was that we are just as talented and deep, if not more so, than last year. We run a fast paced offense, which allowed us to pass the century mark, something we only did once last season. I would say that the Bears’ biggest weakness is turning the ball over. We had 19 against ACU and even 25 assists do not make that a good ratio. ACU shot 50 percent in the first half and went to the line 24 times in the second half. I believe that the later problem is more easily fixable than the first considering we had a problem with turnovers last year. Both Jackson and Rose, however, had a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, which is encouraging since they are our point guards. The freshman class looked phenomenal and is incredibly blessed with that much talent. Austin was the only freshman who started and all could still be redshirted this year if the coaches deemed it necessary. I believe everyone knew about Austin, but Gathers have blown me away. Watching him in practice and games you can just tell that he is a strong, physical player. The dude is built like a tank; he’s huge. He had ten rebounds against ACU, seven of which were offensive. Rose was impressive as he came in and ran the point with limited freshman mistakes. He played the most minutes (24) and had four assists and only two turnovers. Taurean Prince and Chad Rykhoek were impressive when they were on the court. Coach Drew gave a speech before the season asking for consistency, that the returns have to bring something everyday and the rookies cannot be rookies anymore. Each player has to step it up in order for this team to have success.
5.) CJ McCollum is on a lot of the same preseason lists that Pierre Jackson is on, but with 5 inches on Jackson I don’t think Pierre will spend much time playing defense on CJ, so who do you expect to spend the most time guarding McCollum?
It looked like that Baylor will play a lot more man this year than they did last year. In that case I expect A.J. Walton, our defensive specialist, to have the opportunity to shut down the explosive McCollum. That’s a tough task for anyone though.
6.) Finally, the media has high expectations for Baylor, picked 2nd in the Big 12 and ranked in the top 20 in the preseason rankings, so what are the fans in Waco’s expectations for this Baylor team this year?
Yes, I believe that the regular season Big 12 championship will come down to March 9th when Kansas comes to play Baylor. Second is a good pick by the media, since the Jayhawks have been dominant and Baylor seems to come up just short in years past. There is a different feel about this team though. There’s experience and leadership and the returners from last year have gotten better. The freshmen seem to be fitting right in as well. I think the fans expect another good season and to maybe compete for a Big 12 title, and a run to the sweet 16 or beyond. I think that this team is better than last year’s though. I know that’s a tough claim to make, especially with a small sample size against ACU and when last year’s squad started 17-0, went to the Big 12 championship game, only lost in the Elite 8 to eventual champion Kentucky, and had three starters turn pro. Still, I point to the intangibles that I would argue are more evident this year. They will have to take it one game at a time with a tough non-conference schedule starting with your Lehigh Mountain Hawks. They may be talented, deep, and experienced yet youth could be their downfall. Youth can be one of their biggest assets or biggest detriments depending on their mindset before each game. I think they have the right guys and coaches to stay on track for their goal.
Special thanks goes out to the Baylor Bear Pit, best of luck on the 9th, but Go Lehigh!