Baylor basketball has enjoyed a wealth of personality for nearing a decade. Each season saw the rise of a new team representative, sometimes simultaneously. Curtis Jerrells gave way to Tweety Carter, who led the Bears to the Elite Eight with Ekpe Udoh and LaceDarius Dunn, eventually giving way to Quincy Acy and his beard, who both reached the Elite Eight again with Pierre Jackson and a couple of high profile non-personalities in Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller (he could have been a Baylor legend with another season or two, by the way); Jackson buddied up with Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson to win the NIT, and then those two big men played tag team with Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince to slip into the Sweet Sixteen; finally, Gathers and Prince came into their own and helped Baylor reach three straight NCAA Tournaments while inspiring the most predictable in-game physiological commentary (which Gathers ultimately fulfilled by being drafted into the NFL in the 6th round and will invert should he ever see the field, e.g. "Rico Gathers, the tight end for the Dallas Cowboys drafted in the 6th round, actually played basketball for Baylor and hadn’t played a down of football since middle school before his rookie season in the National Football League. Pretty remarkable, wouldn’t you say, Phil?" "Well Jim, he’s just got such a fantastic body. He’s quite an athlete." "Thanks, Phil.") and a Hall of Fame postgame interview.
These stars have moved on to other skies. Who’s the next one to rise? Is Johnathan Motley ready for his moment? Can Lecomte walk onto the floor straight into Baylor fans’ hearts? Will Ish Wainright finally grow into the player he was lauded to be before his freshman season? Is Al sexy enough? Let’s figure out who the next lead Bear will be.
First, let’s get Lecomte out of the way. I already detailed how he could be the spark that keeps Baylor’s offense running but has the history to suggest he might not. The dude can shoot, though, and if he can somehow become a Brady Heslip-level shooter who can get his own shot, then that’s a pretty darn valuable player. That might even be enough to be the banner player on the ESPN promos.
Johnathan Motley is a more natural next man up. He showed flashes of brilliance last season amidst mostly consistent play. That’s really what a star is, anyway: reliability studded with bursts of excellence. Baylor and Scott Drew have a tradition of featuring big men in the offense, as well. If Motley can make effective use of the 6 to 60 post-ups he’s likely to have a game, he’s almost a lock to average 16 and 8 with a block and assist. Can he be a go-to scorer late in games, though? That’s less clear.
Ish Wainright, freshman preseason workout hype aside, has never really shown the ability to be more than a glue guy with a great smile. But back in 2013, he seemed destined to be a star for years to come, and it wasn’t just me saying it, although I definitely did and will continue to do so. Wainright’s frame, physique, and basketball IQ are all top flight, and his shooting might finally be coming around after hours in the gym combating his mechanical and emotional sea demons (Note: I hope none of you forgot this enthralling piece of fan fiction). His confidence has certainly come a long way from the days when he was afraid to dribble the ball up against Savannah State. Last season he leapt from 9 minutes a game as a sophomore to 24 a game as a starter. Now he will be relied on for nearly 30 minutes a game as the elder statesman and veteran leader. The possibility is still there for his game to live up to his potential. Will it all finally click with the weight of expectation about to fall on his shoulders? I’m sure of one thing: he can at least be a Gorilla Glue Guy.
Pardoning a meteoric rise from the likes of King McClure, Terry Maston, or Jake Lindsey, Al Freeman is the only other true candidate for stardom on this season’s roster. Freeman has long been a favorite of the ODB community (a bit beyond his due, in my opinion, but I understand his appeal - sensual and otherwise). He has everything you want in a star shooting guard: a tight handle, range on his shot, the ability to drive against closing defenders, and some craft around the rim. He’s not a great passer, but he’s serviceable. Sure, he turns the ball over trying to do too much on his own, but if Prince’s growth taught us anything, it’s that the longer you make reckless plays, the more often they will start to turn out in your favor. Plus, that headband.
Lecomte could steal some of Freeman’s shine, but the junior two-guard is in a great spot to average 14-4-4 a game with the potential to go off for 25 points on any given night. He’s shown improvement every season, and after averaging 11-3-2 last year, it’s certainly imaginable that Sexy Al Freeman could become just Every Day Al Freeman. If that happens, Baylor fans should rejoice.
It feels good to think that any of those four could rise to prominence. It’s equally comforting that all four could share the floor and simply take turns dominating games or even halves. A roster this balanced could be a formidable opponent, even without a bona fide star. If Baylor has aspirations to go beyond the first round of the Tournament this year, however, someone will have to be the face of the charge. It’s just not clear who that will be just yet.