Summer 2024

Baylor coach Scott Drew praises 'spiritually deep' group despite NCAA Tournament upset

There will not be a repeat winner of the men’s NCAA Tournament this year.

The defending-champion Baylor Bears, a No. 1 seed in the East region, fell to No. 8-seeded North Carolina in a thrilling 93-86 overtime contest on Saturday. The last school to repeat as champion was Florida in 2006 and 2007.

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Before it was over, though, Baylor (27-7) came back from a 25-point second-half deficit to force overtime. It matched the biggest comeback ever in an NCAA Tournament game, but the Bears ultimately couldn’t pull out the victory.

Baylor is the first No. 1 seed to lose in this year’s tournament. But that’s not what head coach Scott Drew will remember about this team. He’ll remember its perseverance — not just in this game, but all season.

“First and foremost, [I’ll remember] just what great young men they are,” Drew said in his postgame press conference. “They’re fun to be around each and every day. They came to work, they had good attitudes, they really represented the school the right way.

“Our theme [was], ‘What’s impossible with man is possible with God’ (Luke 18:27). I mean, to win back-to-back conference championships with three season-ending injuries, that’s phenomenal along with all the other injuries these guys have overcome.”

After winning the national title and losing four of its starters, few people gave Baylor much of a chance to win another title. But the Bears earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season — the only times the program has done so in school history — and have won 26 or more games each of the past three seasons.

Baylor has become one of the blue bloods of college basketball, with the likes of the North Carolina program it fell to Saturday. By defeating Baylor, UNC (26-9) will be making its 30th all-time appearance in the tournament’s Sweet 16, the most of any school.

But Coach Drew said after the game that it’s about more than just basketball with Baylor.

“At Baylor it’s always bigger than just basketball,” he said in the postgame press conference. “We prepare champions for life. It’s great to have an impact spiritually; character formation. Academic wise, this is one of the best academic groups we’ve had. Spiritually it’s a real deep group; I’m proud of their growth and what they’ve taught me. And character wise, they represent their team and their school the right way. So I couldn’t be more pleased with the kind of young men we have here.”

A big influence on Baylor’s players becoming “great young men” is the culture of J.O.Y. that Drew has established. The acronym stands for Jesus, Others, then Yourself. The coaches and players often talk about it, and it’s even shown on the team’s Twitter page.

It was on full display as last year’s Bears won the national championship. Upon winning, the entire team stopped to gather into a circle on the court and give God thanks in prayer. Moments later, the team was presented with the 2021 national championship trophy. When answering questions from Jim Nantz of CBS, Drew talked about the team’s culture.

“We play with a culture of J.O.Y.,” he said. “That’s Jesus, Others then Yourself.”

Coach Drew elaborated in that night’s postgame press conference. He began the session by saying, “First and foremost, I want to thank God for blessing us with this opportunity tonight. I know the guys have worked really hard, so happy they get a chance to celebrate now.”

He was later asked more about that culture.

“A lot of joy in the locker room for sure,” he said. “But our joy is Jesus, Others, Yourself. It’s so tough to put other people in front of you and teams that do that are obviously more successful. Our guys, their love for each other [is] because they spend so much time working on their craft together, and they put in the time.

“Credit our assistant coaches for doing an incredible job bringing in high-character kids that want to be great teammates and want to work hard and want to improve. They deserve all that they’re getting.”

Though the 2021-22 season may be over for Baylor, the culture will carry on.

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