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Baylor coach, former Kentucky players say ‘a lot of blessings’ come with patience

Jerry Tipton
·7 min read

For those who applaud or abhor the idea of college athletes being able to transfer without having to sit out a season, this coming week figures to be newsy. The agenda for the NCAA Division I Council’s “virtual” meeting Wednesday and Thursday includes the proposal — which was tabled in January — to permit athletes one transfer that does not require a one-year waiting period before being eligible again to play.

If approved, the change would need a final OK at the Division I Board of Directors meeting on April 28. Following the D-I Council’s lead is viewed as all but automatic.

Supporters see athletes gaining the kind of freedom of movement college coaches have long enjoyed. Detractors see college sports embracing free agency on a scale that can turn basketball into glorified pickup games.

During a teleconference previewing the Final Four, Baylor Coach Scott Drew was asked a thought-provoking question: The requirement to sit out a season might have been intended as a way to discourage transferring, but might it also benefit players?

“There are a lot of blessings to be able to sit out a year, and coaches will all tell you that,” Drew said.

Transfers have had that year to acquaint themselves to new surroundings, new coaches and new teammates, Drew said. No game preparation frees the transfer to spend more time lifting weights and shooting in a gym.

“So, it’s one year basically developing your craft and improving your game,” Drew said.

More than one former transfer to Kentucky came to appreciate the year they sat out. Not that it was easy.

“It’s tough having played ever since I could crawl,” said Kyle Macy, who transferred to UK after his freshman season for Purdue. His father was a coach, so a basketball in his hands was among his earliest memories.

But Macy came to appreciate what sitting out the 1976-77 season meant. Weighing about 160 pounds and having “never touched a weight in my life” upon arrival, he needed time to literally grow into playing for Kentucky.

Macy also got to play with and against his future teammates in practice.

“When you’re playing with them, you know where they like to shoot from (and) where they want to catch it,” he said. “As a point guard, that’s pretty helpful.”

Heshimu Evans, who transferred from Manhattan to UK, said he also needed to gain weight while sitting out the 1996-97 season. He arrived at 185 pounds. His listed weight as a UK senior was 215.

“I believe I became one of the best defenders for two reasons: It’s because of Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson,” Evans said. “I had to guard them in practice every day. So, when you’re being scorched by two of the best players in the country the year you’re sitting out, that just puts you in the driver’s seat on all the defensive assignments you get that next season.”

Evans also cited off-court advantages.

“Taking my toughest courses during the year when I had to sit out and not travel with the team,” he said. “Get to know the city. I think it was the best year for me because I truly believe if I was thrown into the fire, I don’t think I would have played at the University of Kentucky.”

Anderson, who transferred to UK from Ohio State, said he learned how to fit in while sitting out the 1994-95 season. Lesson one: he would not need to shoot every time he touched the ball. Lesson two: Rick Pitino had do’s and don’ts for players.

Of course, one size does not fit all players. Johnny Juzang left UK a year ago and was the leading scorer (16.0 points) on the UCLA team that advanced to this year’s Final Four.

Drew said he offers players the option of “redshirting,” or sitting out a season. But the Baylor coach and former transfers to UK expect instant gratification — not possible long-term benefits — to cause players to applaud should the NCAA make one exception to the requirement that transfers sit out a year.

“We’d all like to have success right away,” Drew said. “We’d all like to own a company right away. Everyone would like to be a head coach right away. Everyone would like to be in the NBA right away.

“Sometimes the reality is it takes time to get what you want.”

Anderson used the NBA Draft in making the point that we live in an impatient world. Each draft has 60 picks. Yet, 163 underclassmen entered the 2020 NBA Draft. That was a slight decrease from the 175 in the previous year’s draft.

“It makes zero sense to me,” Anderson said. “But people are rushing nowadays.”

Kentucky connection

Baylor’s national championship season had a Kentucky connection. John Morris, the radio play-by-play announcer for Baylor basketball, was born in Louisville and grew up in Danville. He is a 1977 graduate of Danville High School.

Morris, 61, grew up as a Kentucky fan. “Very much so,” he said on Wednesday.

UK’s iconic radio play-by-play announcer, Cawood Ledford, was an influence.

“Oh gosh, yes,” Morris said. “I just loved those broadcasts. It was Cawood and Ralph Hacker with me growing up. That was the soundtrack of my youth.”

His father, Sid Morris, was a native of Garland, Texas. He came to Louisville to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and became a Baptist minister.

Baylor basketball play-by-play announcer John Morris, left, grew up in Danville. Color commentator, Pat Nunley, is at right.
Baylor basketball play-by-play announcer John Morris, left, grew up in Danville. Color commentator, Pat Nunley, is at right.

When it came time for college, Morris considered the University of Kentucky. But a visit to Baylor, his parents’ alma mater, changed his mind. He left a snowy and icy Kentucky.

“It was 72 degrees and sunny in Waco,” Morris said. “And I said, I’m going to Baylor. I thought part of college was getting away. So, I got 1,000 miles away.”

Morris majored in radio and television broadcasting. He worked for 14 years as sports anchor for a Waco TV station. After eight years doing color commentary on radio broadcasts of Baylor games, he succeeded Frank Fallon, who had done play by play for 43 seasons. “Our Cawood Ledford,” Morris called Fallon. Morris has done play-by-play since 1995.

During the NCAA Tournament, Morris called the games at the site but did not live in a “bubble.” After the first weekend, he was joined by his wife, two daughters, a son and their families. The group included three grandchildren ages 5, 1 and six months.

When asked what it was like to call games for a team that won the NCAA Tournament, Morris said, “I think it’s still soaking in. I love hearing that. It just sounds so great. Who knew if that moment would ever happen?”

Yawn patrol

It was noticed that the time was 1 a.m. EDT when UCLA Coach Mick Cronin tweeted a reaction to North Carolina Coach Roy Williams announcing his retirement.

“One a.m. is early when you’re playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Cronin said in an apparent reference to late night-early morning game preparation.

To emphasize this point, Cronin shared the advice he heard from Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo when the two spoke at the end of their First Four game.

“Your (butt) better not go to sleep,” Izzo said according to Cronin. “You’ve got games to win.”

‘It’s OK’

Going into the NCAA Tournament, Gonzaga Coach Mark Few had concerns about his team being confined to a “bubble” for a period of time he paradoxically hoped would last as long as possible.

“I entered into this with much trepidation,” he said on a teleconference previewing the Final Four.

During the tournament, Few gained a greater appreciation for confinement.

“We’ve actually drawn even closer together,” he said. “We’re used to it now. There’s a rhythm to it. It’s OK.”

Sales pitch

After MaCio Teague decided to transfer from UNC Asheville, he received a text from Davion Mitchell. Mitchell, who began his college career at Auburn, encouraged Teague to join him at Baylor.

“Come to Baylor, we can win a championship,” Teague recalled the text reading.

Although Teague did transfer to Baylor, he dismissed the importance of Mitchell’s text in making the decision.

“Everybody says that in a text when you’re being recruited,” he said.

Happy birthday

To Kyle Macy. He turned 64 on Friday. … To Nerlens Noel. He turned 27 on Saturday. … To former Transylvania Coach Don Lane. He turns 78 on Monday. … To Isaiah Briscoe. He turns 25 on Tuesday. … To Derrick Jasper. He turns 33 on Tuesday.