I had the privilege of chatting with Coach Homer Drew who is leading the Baylor-influenced Team HEARTFIRE in this year’s The Basketball Tournament. TBT is a winner-take-all basketball tournament with a $1,000,000 prize for the winner.
Team HEARTFIRE consists of all former professional players, but more relevant, rosters former Bears A.J. Walton and King McClure.
We were able to talk after this weekend’s win vs The Overlooked (Murray St. Alum).
M: Coach, wanted to start off by talking Team HEARTFIRE. What is HEARTFIRE for those that don’t know?
HD: Team HEARTFIRE is a team that was put together for the million dollar tournament, the TBT. HEARTFIRE started with a brothers by Dr. Jeff Dyer and Dr. Mark Dyer. They had created a program for pre-med students that takes them into South America, Central America and establishing a space and taking care of medical procedures, even minor surgery, all free of cost. Mark is a basketball junky and wanted to put a basketball team together to help broaden and market HEARTFIRE to help and support this mission. We decided to put together a team and put them into the tournament. And if we win, it REALLY helps the organization!
M: What has it been like coaching AJ and King?
HD: King wanted to get back into basketball and he has been really good. He is shooting the ball really well and playing hard defense. He’s been doing a really good job. AJ Walton has been a defensive player of the year overseas in his league. His defense has been outstanding and he handles the basketball. Those two have been a very big part of our success in our first game, and of course tonight we play the team that has been picked to win it all
M: What is the elevator pitch for how HEARTFIRE wants to play on both sides of the ball?
HD: The players play really hard defense. And the thing is Matt, and I’ve coached for 46 years, is how in 5 days, it is remarkable how they get along on and off the floor. I’ve gotten so many texts and emails about the JOY that this team plays with, and they play GOOD defense. They are physical, they help one another, and this has been ever since they started practice.
Offensively, we played 9 guys (last game) and all 9 scored.
M: You made the transition for me by mentioning JOY, which has been a strong Baylor motto the last couple of years. What has it been like seeing not just one, but both of your sons make the NCAA tournament? What has the last year been like for you as a father?
HD: Seeing Scott taking a program in shambles and build it steadily, culminating in his dream and the dream of Baylor fans by winning the whole thing is such an accomplishment. But the way they did it is the JOY of the culture (Jesus, Others, Yourself) is what is so fun. And you could see that on the floor! With Mark sliding on the floor and Davion not letting guy go anywhere, it is a JOY watching Baylor basketball.
With Bryce, coming out in his first year getting a conference championship, a (conference) tournament championship, those are all firsts for Grand Canyon University.
M: In his first year!
HD: In his first year! It’s been a really special time for the family.
M: Scott has his own legacy already built at Baylor, but it wasn’t always so clear what this program would become. What were your thoughts when he left a family legacy at Valpo for something, frankly, insanely risky and controversial as the Baylor job was at the time?
HD: Scott’s dream was always to get to the Final Four and win a championship. I remember we would watch as a family the One Shining Moment and his dream was to make that One Shining Moment. When the Baylor job came open, it was a larger school, Power 5 school, and had a chance. And more importantly, it was a great fit. A Baptist school, you could pray, and help develop young men off the floor. At least from his dad’s point of view, even when they weren’t winning games, they were winning with the young men off the floor. And there was no way to go but up!
My special moment was watching Coach Tang and Scott hug after those two had worked side by side for so long.
M: Thoughts on the current state of college basketball?
HD: Well what I’m worried about is that Texas and Oklahoma thinking about leaving for the SEC, which I think will lead to a domino effect for the other conferences. The landscape looks like it will be very challenging and I think if you see movement, you’ll see other movement as well.
M: Coach, tonight’s game is against Boeheim’s Army, made up of Syracuse Alumni. What do you expect from the Orange tonight?
HD: They will start in that 2-3 zone which is the trade mark for Boeheim and Syracuse University, then will play a little man to man. They have several former NBA players on there that are very talented, and they are picked to advance out of the region. Our guys are excited for the opportunity to play them tonight. I think it will be a good, intense basketball game.
M: Go have a great practice and I can’t wait to talk to you after you guys win the region.
HD: Hey! I like your thinking Matt. God Bless!
You can watch the game tonight at 6pm CST on ESPN2.