Baylor, Purdue enjoy triumphant ride from bottom to NCAA tournament

3-19-08 -- Their knowledge of X’s and O’s was secondary in importance to their skill as salesmen. If Scott Drew and Matt Painter were to win, each had to convince kids out of high school to join a program that had become downright embarrassing.

Drew was in charge of bringing Baylor back from one of the most horrid scandals in college basketball history. Painter was responsible for lifting Purdue out of last place in the Big Ten.

The process was agonizing at times, yet both coaches have done precisely what they set out to accomplish. And now, Drew and Painter will be standing on opposite ends of the scorer’s table Thursday night when 11th-seed Baylor (21-10) faces No. 6 Purdue (24-8) in the opening round of the West Regional.

“This is exactly what we play for,” Baylor senior Aaron Bruce said Wednesday. “We worked extremely hard to make it happen, not only this season but in the three seasons before this.”

Five years ago, Baylor forward Patrick Dennehy was murdered by his teammate, Carlton Dotson, who later confessed to the crime. In the months that followed, coach Dave Bliss and athletic director Tom Stanton resigned, three players transferred and the school endured severe NCAA and self-imposed sanctions.

The program was in shambles. What athlete would possibly be willing to join a team facing those kind of obstacles?

“Well, the first couple of recruits were easy, because they were the walk-ons we were trying to recruit in the rec center,” Drew recalled. “The others, did they have the type of character to go through a rebuilding process? We were fortunate to find those people.”

It wasn’t any different for Painter. The Boilermakers were coming off a 7-21 season when Painter arrived and were 9-19 in his first season. Who would want to be a part of that?

“The one thing that we had is that our basketball tradition is very, very good,” Painter said. “We were trying to get those guys to understand that, we’re not asking you to do something that’s never been done. We’re just asking you to get this thing going again.”

Painter, in turn, completely understands what Drew experienced at Baylor.

“The situation there was very extreme and unfortunate,” Painter said. “Trying to get guys to come to school while you’re struggling is a difficult task. It really is. But when you do get guys, they’re not scared. They’re not going because everybody is going to that school. They want to put their prints on the program, and I think that’s what Scott has right now. He has some guys that are hungry, that wanted to go to Baylor. They believed his vision.”

These teams are so similar, it’s almost scary.

“If you bring in quality players that do the right thing, high character kids, good things are going to happen,” Drew said. “Both our teams have been fortunate to bring in those type of individuals.”

It finally paid off this season, especially for Drew. This is the first time since 1988, and only the second time since 1950, that Baylor is part of the NCAA tournament. The Bears were 15-16 last year.

“We had to earn every bit of respect we have today,” Baylor forward Mark Shepherd said. “It’s something I’ll live with the rest of my life. It’s an awesome story, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Junior Curtis Jerrells said, “One of the main reasons that everyone came to this school is to be part of something special. We started from the ground, and look where we are now.”

The same can be said of the Boilermakers, who finished last in the Big Ten the year before Painter arrived. This season, Purdue went 15-3 in the league and came in second, even though the core of the team consists of freshmen and sophomores.

“It’s great for us to be a part of it, getting Purdue back to playing in the NCAA tournament,” sophomore guard Chris Kramer said.

“It’s definitely been a journey. My freshman year was kind of like the rebuilding year,” junior Marcus Green said. “Where we’re at now is definitely a great pleasure.

And Baylor?

“For them to be in NCAA tournament,” Purdue sophomore Keaton Grant said, “it’s a big accomplishment for them, too.”


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