WACO, Texas -- Whenever Baylor's starting five are on the court, there are no scholarship players sitting on the bench with coach Scott Drew.
At practice, there are just enough players for 5-on-5 drills.
Drew knew it was going to be tough when he took over the
troubled program, and it's about to get tougher when the Bears open
Big 12 play at Texas (No. 16 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) on Saturday.
"I don't know the last team to go through the Big 12 with five
scholarship players, but I bet they weren't too successful," Drew
said. "We don't need any more injuries, illnesses, sickness or
Drew replaced Dave Bliss, who resigned amid serious NCAA
violations revealed following the death of player Patrick Dennehy
and a murder charge against former teammate Patrick Dotson. A
school-imposed probation will keep Baylor out of the Big 12
tournament, and the NCAA could eventually impose harsher penalties.
Baylor's top three players took advantage of relaxed transfer
rules and went to other schools before the fall semester began.
Already undermanned, Baylor lost three more starters in the past
month. Senior co-captains R.T. Guinn and Terrance Thomas were ruled
academically ineligible last week, and Ellis Kidd was dismissed
from the team before Christmas for violating team policy. All
averaged at least 31 minutes and 11 points a game.
The Bears (5-8) have lost six of their last eight games to
teams like Texas-Pan American, BYU-Hawaii and North Texas and are
the only Big 12 team with a losing record.
Now comes play in one of the nation's toughest conferences.
The first five Big 12 opponents have a combined 47-7 record,
with Texas Tech (12-2, No. 25 ESPN/USA Today) and Oklahoma (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) (10-0) coming to Waco
before the end of the month.
Forget their preseason goal of 15 wins for a winning record. The
reality for the Bears is trying to avoid a winless conference
season; the only 0-16 Big 12 record was Baylor five years ago
before Bliss arrived.
One of Baylor's primary goals is just to stay close.
"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. We definitely know what we're against."
In two games since Thomas, the team's top scorer and rebounder, and Guinn were ruled ineligible, Matt Sayman, Harvey Thomas and
Corey Herring have played at least 70 minutes each. Those are
Herring's only two starts.
"We have to worry about not wearing them down, we've got to
worry about foul trouble ... we've got all kind of worries now,"
Drew's first substitution move in both games was when he put all
five non-scholarship players in at the same time, giving the
starters a short rest. One of the non-scholarship players is Robbie
McKenzie, added to the team after an open campus tryout in October
and a player in every game so far.
"Everyone just has the mind-set to come out and play as hard as
we can," Herring said. "We've got fighters on the team."
Against Purdue (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) on Saturday, the Bears cut a 22-point deficit to seven in the final minute of a 76-65 loss.
"We can't control how much more talent other teams have or what shots they have," said Sayman, along with Herring the only
remaining players who started games before this season. "We can
only control how hard we play and execute. We have some young guys
getting experience, and they will only be stronger and learning
every day while thrown into the fire."