The hair is just a bit thinner, but the smile is wide and the enthusiasm remains that of a 5-year-old. Scott Drew is in the middle of a frustrating stretch, yet to talk to him you would think the Baylor basketball team has not lost a game in four years.
Maybe if this were any other coach at any other major program, his appearance would look like a man whose team is above only TCU in the Big 12 standings.
Maybe if this were any program other than Baylor, which boasts a basketball history that is not exactly great, Drew would not be smiling so wide.
No man has ever done more for Baylor basketball than Scott Drew. He made it nationally relevant and competitive. Yet, he has created a fan base that is certain more is possible — and now feels the right to be disappointed.
“I think the great thing about having expectations [is] you know you have done some great things. At the same time, it helps your program,” Drew said Monday, the day before his team lost at home to No. 8 Kansas.
“When you play places now, you get good crowds. People are excited to play us. We get one of their better efforts against us than we did 10 years ago, which makes us a better program.”
Stats you might not believe: Scott Drew is in his 11th season in Waco. He is tied with Kansas coach Bill Self as the second-longest tenured coach in the conference, behind only Texas’ Rick Barnes.
One season after winning the NIT title, Baylor is 14-8 and 2-7 in the Big 12. According to RealTimeRPI.com — which ranks all 351 NCAA Division I men’s basketball programs — the Bears are 57th. That is not going to be good enough for the Bears to make their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the past seven years.
This season has featured Baylor at its maddening best/worst under Drew — a win against then-No. 3 Kentucky, a 12-1 start, a No. 7 national ranking. Then it lost six of its first seven Big 12 games.
“I think everyone sees there is going to be a hiccup or two, but we definitely didn’t see us losing as many games as we did,” Drew said. “I knew the Big 12 was really going to be good, and after playing as many games as we have, it’s better than I thought.”
And just when you want to bury Drew and put the Bears in the CBI Invite Whatever, Baylor beats No. 8 Oklahoma State on Feb. 1.
“With us, we know the Big 12 is the No. 1 conference in the country,” Drew said. “If we play well, we can win every game. If we don’t play well, we can lose every game. There is no guarantee we are going to win. We are facing other Top 25 teams that are very good.”
Since 2006, the Bears have been good. Sometimes very good. That was the first year Drew was able to recruit without the NCAA penalties that were imposed for the infractions committed under coach Dave Bliss.
This year will likely be the seventh consecutive winning season of Baylor basketball — a first in program history. Even if Baylor does not make the NCAA Tournament, there is a good chance it will make the NIT again.
There was a time — like nearly every season before Drew — that reaching the NIT was a reason for a parade at Baylor.
Under Drew, the Bears have been to the NCAA Tournament three times with two Elite Eight appearances. Before Drew, the team had reached the NCAA Tournament a total of four times.
The man is a 15-4 in NCAA and NIT games.
Scott Drew did this. At Baylor.
Yet, Baylor fans are somehow spoiled.
“That is due to the guys before us,” senior point guard Gary Franklin said. “They’ve given us an expectation to live up to. Spoiled? I wouldn’t say spoiled. We are looking to deliver and play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Since 1906, this program has had 16 other head coaches. Drew is only the fourth coach at Baylor since 1941 to have a winning record.
He has turned one of the worst Division I coaching gigs into a job that other people would want, which is the problem.
Drew can get players. Since 2010, Baylor has had five players selected in the NBA Draft: Ekpe Udoh, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller, Perry Jones III and Pierre Jackson.
Before Drew, Baylor had a total of 13 players selected since the first in 1949.
This does not include other notable Scott Drew players, such as LaceDarius Dunn, Curtis Jerrells, Tweety Carter and Kevin Rogers,. This team features at least two players — Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin — who are likely to spend some time in the NBA. It is that talent that has Baylor fans (and those irrational message boards that plague college coaches and athletes) believing Baylor should be just a bit better.
One of the things working in Drew’s favor is that he is at Baylor, which is in Texas, where football has the keys. Drew has made the same trade every other Division I men’s basketball coach in this state makes — because it’s not football, you can extend your career a bit longer if your team doesn’t deliver. People just don’t notice as much.
“I think every basketball player wants fans like the football players do,” Franklin said. “We play for each other and, hopefully, the fans show up and it gives us a little bit of a home-court advantage.”
That is not a Scott Drew-created problem. That is a Texas basketball problem that every coach from Rick Barnes to Larry Brown to Trent Johnson to Billy Kennedy faces.
The Scott Drew problem is Baylor specific, and one he created.
Whatever you think of him, or his ability to coach, he created a winner at Baylor. He created expectations at a program that previously had zero.
Perhaps that is why, to this day, amid a frustrating stretch, he can smile.
Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog on www.star-telegram.com/sports.