When Tweety Carter became the first McDonald's All-American whom Baylor landed, he had no idea he was about to be used as the centerpiece of a controversial recruiting campaign.
Of course, Carter also didn't realize that his ambitious head coach had positioned himself as the most polarizing figure in Big 12 basketball almost from the moment he walked on campus.
Scott Drew often has taken the unorthodox path, and he's drawn the ire of fellow coaches more than once. But, as his Baylor Bears descend on Kansas City, Mo., for the Big 12 tournament as the No. 3 seed, their highest seeding ever, Drew just might boast the conference's most complete club outside Lawrence, Kan.
With an explosive offense, a well-executed zone defense and a roster full of experienced upperclassmen and younger role players, the Bears are legitimate contenders to make a Sweet 16 run in what will be their second NCAA tournament in Drew's seven seasons.
Recruiting at all costs
As a 32-year-old with choir boy looks, Drew took over the depleted and demoralized Bears program in 2003 in the wake of the Patrick Dennehy murder and scandals surrounding former coach Dave Bliss, knowing he would have to sell top recruits hard if he wanted to compete in the Big 12.
For example, Drew mailed a flier to recruits that showed a picture of him standing between former Texas Tech coach Bob Knight and former Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie with a caption that read: "Which of these Big 12 coaches has signed a McDonald's All-American?"
A big, red X was stamped across Knight and another across Gillispie. That tactic, along with other negative recruiting mailers throughout the years, has infuriated some conference coaches.
Drew apologized for the flier, but only after Knight cornered him in a bathroom during Big 12 Conference meetings and told him the coaching profession doesn't operate that way. Drew hasn't surrendered his aggressive approach, a recruiting style that one source familiar with the conference deemed "the most negative recruiting in the country."
"I feel basketball coaching is like so many other professions, extremely difficult, competitive and challenging, and I just know our staff tries to do things the right way, and we try to treat people how we we'd like to be treated and try to respect people like we'd want them to respect us," Drew said. "The more tradition a program has, the easier sometimes it is to recruit to that university."
At last year's Big 12 tournament, Texas coach Rick Barnes had harsh words for Drew, stemming from Drew's hiring of Dwon Clifton as director of player development, a newly created position. Clifton happened to be the AAU coach of Kentucky freshman superstar John Wall. Although Drew isn't the only coach adding AAU coaches to his staff, many consider it a shady practice. It ultimately did not pay off in Wall's recruitment, but Barnes made it clear he didn't like it.
"There's a line that he knows that he can't cross with me," Barnes told The New York Times. Asked whether he had anything else to say about Drew's recruiting practices, Barnes said, "I wish I could."
One of Drew's first hires was assistant Jerome Tang, who headed a basketball team at Heritage Christian, a small private school in Cleveland, Texas, near Houston. Heritage became known as a state powerhouse that played across the country and whose gymnasium was larger than the school itself. Tang had a reputation among public high school coaches in the Houston area for luring top players to play and live at Heritage, which closed its doors in 2006.
Asked whether he believes that Big 12 coaches respect him, Drew chuckled and said, "I really wouldn't know for sure, but I know one thing: If you're coaching in the Big 12, you're obviously pretty skilled and talented, because you don't get into this league unless you know what you're doing."
Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, hired shortly after Drew, acknowledged poor judgment on the flier involving Knight and Gillispie but said he grants Drew the latitude to run his own program and the discretion to hire his own staff.
"The hallmark of Coach Drew and his whole staff is they are extremely hardworking and not afraid to challenge the status quo," McCaw said. "He took over a program at a very low point, and all he had to sell was their enthusiasm and vision for the program. He cast a very ambitious vision. I remember in the early days, Coach Drew was talking about getting to the Final Four. That seemed a long way away, but it doesn't seem that far away this year."
According to reports, the Memphis job that was open a year ago was there for Drew to take. He is now being mentioned as a candidate to replace departing Oregon coach Ernie Kent. But McCaw doesn't expect Drew to go anywhere.
Because Baylor is a private institution, it is not inclined to make contracts public, but McCaw said Baylor "has made a significant commitment to [Drew], and he's committed to Baylor. He's building an outstanding program here, and I look for that to continue."
Back in the NCAA tournament
The Bears will be in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons.
Tactics aside, Drew has assembled a team that is hardworking, easy to like and fun to watch. Carter and LaceDarius Dunn (19.2 points a game, 42.4 percent from 3-point range) combine to make the most explosive backcourt in the Big 12 and perhaps the nation. Ekpe Udoh (13.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.1 blocks) has transformed the Bears into a complete team, one that can win a defensive struggle as well as an offensive shootout.
"They've got better players than what a lot of people thought they would have, because nobody knew the impact Udoh would have on the program," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "You knew Tweety and you knew Dunn were going to be solid. Udoh is a key factor to me."
With three starters graduating and no one certain of Udoh's effect, Baylor garnered little respect heading into the season. In nonconference play, the Bears beat Xavier, Arizona State, Arkansas and South Carolina. But it wasn't until Baylor took Kansas down to the wire at Allen Fieldhouse that the Big 12 recognized the Bears as a tough customer.
After all, it wasn't so long ago that coaches viewed Baylor as just a couple of conference wins. Drew, like his tactics or not, has changed that.
"In life, we all have things that we'd do again or do different, but for the most part I feel very pleased with how we've conducted ourselves and the job that we've tried to do here at Baylor," Drew said. "The big thing is we've been fortunate enough to bring in not only good players, but players that represent the school in the right way."