New coach, new beginning
WACO, Texas -- In their first practice of the season Saturday, Baylor University basketball players put the tumultuous summer behind them.
"We're really focused on this year," said Matt Sayman, a senior guard. "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, a 6-foot-10 junior 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.
Dennehy played two seasons at New Mexico before transferring to Baylor in the spring of 2002.
After four years as coach, Dave Bliss, who was the head coach at New Mexico for 11 years and left the Lobos to take the Baylor job, resigned this summer amid revelations of NCAA violations. Baylor put itself on a two-year probation and the top three scorers then transferred.
But the world's largest Baptist university, with nearly 14,000 students, tried to weather the scandal.
Scott Drew was hired as head basketball coach, leaving the same job he held at Valparaiso. Ian McCaw was named Baylor athletic director last month, leaving Massachusetts. He succeeds Tom Stanton, who resigned from Baylor in August the same day as Bliss.
The school still faces NCAA penalties after Bliss was found to be directly involved in paying tuition costs and other expenses for Dennehy and another player, and that 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 and say that Dennehy got tuition money from dealing drugs.
This season, a black patch will be sewn onto team jerseys as a tribute to Dennehy, Drew said.
But players say they are not dwelling on the scandal. They say they don't know if they will 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.
Baylor's first game is Nov. 22 against Texas Southern, and the team hopes to improve on last season's 14-14 record.
"Don't underestimate us," senior Terrence Thomas said after the three-hour practice Saturday.
There are only 11 players on the roster, although more may be added after Monday tryouts for walk-ons. That means players must be in better shape because they will spend more time on the court during each game, Drew said, adding that more tough practices are ahead.
"Now it's their chance to step forward," Drew said.
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 the scholarship 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 a game, 58 percent of Baylor's 69-point average.
They transferred after the NCAA waived the rule requiring them to sit out a season.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press