Ish Wainright—the only Baylor basketball player to make the NCAA Tournament four times—will use a fifth year of eligibility to play football at Baylor. That news was first reported by Colt Barber of SicEm365. Jessica Morey of KCEN let us know he’ll play tight end.
Guessing how Wainright’s skills on the basketball court will translate to the football field seems kind of like wild guesswork. ODB will never shy away from wild guesswork. I grew up a Chiefs fan and watched Tony Gonzalez. He’s the best tight end in NFL history. He played college basketball and football at Cal. I also watched a ton of Antonio Gates in those days. He never played college football before his legendary career began. Instead, he played basketball at Kent State.
Then there’s Rico Gathers. The former First Team All-Big 12 forward played four years of basketball at Baylor. Now he’s on the Cowboy’s practice squad. Mel Kiper created the role of NFL Draft analyst. With the way Baylor basketball is producing football players, I am willing to create the role of “man who guesses how basketball players will become football players.” We’ll start by breaking down several skills that will help Wainright play football.
Wainright is going to face a massive challenge. He’ll be tasked with learning a new sport and fighting through challenging times. If you watch him play basketball, you understand effort has never been a problem:
There should also be zero concern he won’t finish his routes:
Wainright last played football in the ninth grade. He’ll be asked to play tight end in what figures to be a fairly complicated offense. The new system will be a big change for players that have spent their entire lives playing football. For someone that hasn’t played in eight years, it’s going to be difficult.
But Wainright has played several different positions at Baylor. As a freshman, in a must win game against No. 8 Oklahoma State, he spent some time as the backup point guard because Kenny Chery was injured. Wainright kept the offense moving, and the Bears came out with a victory. He displayed his intelligence and orchestrated sets. If he can keep track of where everyone is on a play as a freshman, I think he can learn some routes after graduating from college (also this GIF will make you feel old):
One of Baylor’s best offensive plays over the last few years is the RIP set out of a traditional motion offense. When it leads to a dunk, I often refer to as the “awesome play.” In almost all of the most successful versions of that play, Wainright makes the pass. He’s tasked with quickly deciding whether to hit the big man with a quick strike or lob. And if that option is gone, he can forego that for a 3-point shooter. He almost always made the right decision:
It takes a lot more than intelligence and effort to be a good football player though. Wainright has the physical skills too.
Wainright has excellent burst. He was often placed on point guards, and in man-to-man defense, the Bears could switch pick-and-rolls. They didn’t do that a ton for a variety of other reasons. Yet, in those moments, the Bears were able to keep him on much smaller players. If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. If you can guard Texas Tech’s guard on the last possession of a game, you can beat guys off the line of scrimmage.
The challenge for Wainright may be his top end speed. Baylor played at one of the slowest paces in the country, and he rarely had to sprint the floor. There aren’t too many offensive schemes where a tight end is expected to break an eighty yard play, but I am interested in seeing how Wainright would do in the open field.
There are two big advantages for Wainright as a target. First, he’ll be a giant tight end. He’s got a 7’2 wingspan. You can see Svi Mykhailiuk wasn’t expecting a man to be this long, and quarterbacks will appreciate throwing to him:
Second, Wainright has incredible leaping ability. Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates made the transition from basketball and were monsters in the red zone. Wainright should be able to replicate that success because he’ll fly above the defense:
There’s not a ton to use to figure out how well Wainright can catch passes. He’s done well holding onto the ball, especially in traffic when crashing the glass. But there’s a difference between holding onto the ball and hauling it in. I think Wainright will do fine. You can teach a man to catch. You can’t teach a man to leap or be as big as Wainright.
Is this the right move?
That’s the ultimate question, and I think it probably is. Playing football at Baylor gives Wainright the chance explore his football future, while also staying in shape if he wants to return to basketball. If Wainright could hit 35% of his 3-point shots—something he did his junior year—then he’d have NBA potential. Few guys can defend like him or pass like this:
Making it as a Big 12 tight end, and then an NFL tight end, will be incredibly difficult. Wainright will have to block, learn new routes and battle through pain. But Baylor basketball has already put one tight end in the NFL. They just might add another.