Let me begin by saying that I can't really express how I feel about the season that ended yesterday better than this:
Out of 345 teams in division 1 basketball, we were one of the last 8 standing. I'm proud of my team, love ymy brothers. #FAMILY #BAYLOR— Perry Jones III (@Perry_Jones1) March 25, 2012
If you put aside the individual disappointments of this season-- losing to Mizzou three times, dropping two games in the regular season to Kansas, getting down to Kentucky in the first half yesterday, the way some of our players seemed to disappear from time to time, etc.-- there really isn't that much to be upset about from Baylor basketball in 2011-2012. The team finished with 30 wins, a school record, and the program's second trip to the Elite 8 in three years. Pierre Jackson established himself as one of the best point guards in the country in his first year out of JUCO. Brady Heslip gave Baylor fans a shooting spectacle in the NCAA Tournament the likes of which we've never seen. Roommates Quincy Miller and Deuce Bello flashed incredible promise as true freshmen and, if Miller returns, should form an outstanding tandem next year as both gain experience playing college ball. Senior Quincy Acy developed into an oftentimes dominant force on the offensive and defensive end the likes of which nobody could have expected four years ago when he was a freshman. Our Bears upset Kansas in the Big XII Tournament and threw a wrench into the final Border War everyone expected. I could keep going.
I'm not saying the disappointments Baylor fans rightfully have from this season don't exist. I'll always wonder why we stuck with the zone through so much of the season when it didn't seem to be working, why the mercurial Perry Jones III wasn't always the player we knew he could be and sometimes had the pleasure of seeing, or what happened to A.J. Walton's offensive game. If Perry Jones III and/or Quincy Miller declare for the NBA, I'll always wonder what might have been had one or both decided to stay another year at Baylor and play with incoming freshmen Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, LJ Rose, and Chad Ryhoek (sorry I neglected to include you on twitter last night, Chad!).
At this point, however, I don't want to dwell on the negatives of this season because I don't want to lose sight of the positives, even though we should take those negatives and use them to get better because that is always the goal. Next season, I want to see more of the swarming man defense we used in the Tournament, more of the attacking style that seems to permeate from Deuce Bello even though he couldn't hit water from a boat, and more of the heart and intensity that Quincy Acy showed every single time he set foot on the floor. My hope is that Scott Drew will continue to grow as a coach and that we will vindicate ourselves in terms of national perception.
I also want to give our senior class from this year their due. Quincy Acy, Fred Ellis, and Anthony Jones, a former starter-turned-sparingly-used-backup who never said a word in public about it, won more games in their time at Baylor University than any senior class that has ever come before them. They did everything asked of them with tremendous dignity, integrity, and grace throughout their time here, and I don't really have words to express how proud of them I am. For a program that ten years ago was as far down into the depths of college athletics Hell as one can possibly imagine to have risen to such heights that an Elite 8 loss (our second in three years) classifies as a disappointment is nothing short of miraculous. To know as we know that this program hasn't yet peaked, that we are not necessarily due for a dropoff the way people might assume that we are, is even better.
It is reality in college athletics that each season has to come to an end and players graduate or leave school early. For the best of the best, college isn't the end of the journey and we shouldn't want it to be. At the most, barring some unfortunate injury, we get a maximum of four years of play from each individual that puts on the uniforms of the school we love. In the past, Baylor fans haven't really had to worry about what that means-- we didn't have the type of players come through our halls that actually affected our lives-- but we do now. We have the Robert Griffin IIIs, the Quincy Acys, the Perry Jones IIIs, and next year the Brittney Griners, the players we love that we don't want to see go but that we have to because they're not ours to keep. They will be, however, Baylor Bears forever, and with guys like Quincy Acy, Fred Ellis, and Anthony Jones, I am extremely proud to say that.