Baylor opens practice after tumultuous summer

Updated: October 18, 2003, 6:15 PM ET

WACO, Texas -- Baylor basketball players put the tumultuous summer behind them in their first practice of the season Saturday.

"We're really focused on this year," senior guard Matt Sayman said. "We've gotten to bond with our teammates probably more than any other year. It's different, but it's exciting."

The team never could have imagined just how different this season would be.

Patrick Dennehy, who was expected to make big contributions this year after sitting out last season when he transferred to Baylor, was found shot to death in July after he had been missing for six weeks. Carlton Dotson, who played at Baylor last year, was indicted on a murder charge in Dennehy's death.

After four years as coach, Dave Bliss resigned this summer amid revelations of NCAA violations, and the university put itself on a two-year probation. Also, the top three scorers from last year's team transferred.

The world's largest Baptist university, with nearly 14,000 students, is trying to move past the scandal.

Scott Drew was hired as basketball coach, leaving Valparaiso to take over the troubled program. Ian McCaw left Massachusetts to become Baylor's athletic director. He succeeds Tom Stanton, who resigned in August on the same day as Bliss.

The school still faces NCAA penalties after Bliss was found to be involved in paying tuition costs and other expenses for Dennehy and another player. Also, failed drug tests by players weren't properly reported.

Authorities have said Bliss likely will not face criminal charges, although secretly recorded conversations revealed that he asked players to lie to investigators.

Players say they are not dwelling on the scandal, and said they were unsure whether they would visit Dotson when he is brought to the Waco jail later this month from his home state of Maryland, where he has been jailed since July.

"We haven't talked about anything like that," Sayman said.

The team will wear a black patch on its uniform this season as a tribute to Dennehy, Drew said.

Baylor's first game is Nov. 22 against Texas Southern, and the team has expectations of improving on last season's 14-14 record.

"Don't underestimate us," senior Terrence Thomas said after Saturday's three-hour practice.

There are only 11 players on the roster. That might change after a tryout for walk-ons on Monday.

Center R.T. Guinn, a 6-foot-10 senior, started 27 games and is the top returning scorer (10.6 points per game) and rebounder (5.6 rebounds per game).

Thomas and Sayman, the only other seniors, were part-time starters last season, while junior guard Ellis Kidd Jr. and sophomore forward Tommy Swanson also played. Junior college transfer Harvey Thomas and freshman guard Carl Marshall are newcomers.

The juniors who recently transferred -- Lawrence Roberts (Mississippi State), John Lucas III (Oklahoma State) and Kenny Taylor (Texas) -- each started at least 25 games last season. They averaged a combined 40 points, 58 percent of Baylor's 69-point average.

They transferred after the NCAA waived the rule requiring them to sit out a season.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index