Don’t let the final score of 88-77 in Italy’s favor fool you — this game was all about seeing what kind of player the Baylor Bears will have in Keyonte George this season.
Let me just put you all on high alert: Baylor has never had a player the caliber of George.
George is the highest rated guard Baylor has ever recruited, and the reports coming in were that he’s a threat to score from anywhere at any time. Against Italy, he proved that out. He scored 32 points in 27 minutes, going 10-18 from the floor, 6-12 from 3PT, 6-8 FT with 4 assists, 4 turnovers, and a steal. No other player in the game scored more than 14 points (Dale Bonner for the USA/Baylor and Leonardo Okeke for Italy). George is a certified bucket. That sort of efficiency in his first semi-collegiate action (against lower-tier European professional players, no less) is remarkable.
Most impressive was the variety of ways he scored the ball. He was able to drive past his defender one-on-one, get to the paint by using or rejecting ball screens, pull-up off the dribble, step-back, and get to the line. George understands how to draw contact, how to create space, and when he just needs to put his head down and get into the paint. The closest that Baylor has ever had to a player like George is Jared Butler, but only after Butler had been at Baylor a few seasons. Even then, Butler didn’t draw contact the way that George does, and George had never played a game for Scott Drew before today.
George isn’t perfect, of course. He did get himself ejected with two technical fouls (the second one was a bit weak) for talking, once to an opposing player and once to the refs after a non-call that should have sent him to the line for three free throws. There were still 6 minutes left in the game, and he had half of Baylor’s points at the time. He will need to become more away of game situation and control his emotions once the games start to count, but it may be simply that these referees had a quick trigger for that sort of thing.
What it does indicate, though, is that George is a competitor. He will talk trash with the other team, find every advantage he can, and has a drive to win. When it was clear that the offense simply wasn’t functioning in the absence of Flagler and Love, George took over. At this stage in his development, that mostly means calling his own number, but the four assists are a sign that he has the ability to find the open man, when he doesn’t have eyes only for the rim. George plays with a chip on his shoulder that few opponents will match.
It didn't result in a win, but what a debut for Keyonte George nonetheless.— Eric Kelly (@EricKellyTV) July 5, 2022
The five-star freshman was a walking bucket against Italy, as he scored 32 points in just 28 minutes on the floor. pic.twitter.com/pxkuZNqznT
Two great moments: with 2:39 remaining in the 2nd quarter (rewind the above highlight reel to the appropriate moment), as the commentators discussed George’s number of Instagram followers, the freshman hit a gorgeous step-back three in the defenders eye. Later, getting into a back and forth with Italy’s Bartolie, George said something, to which Bartolie barked back. George, well, clearly doesn’t speak Italian. In response, head cocked, George came back with a “What?” Our Editor in Chief with the only reasonable response:
asdjfalsdkjfasd;lk George talking to Bartoli, and then not understanding what he presumably said back in Italian >>>>.a sdfoas;dflkijasd;lfk— mattisbear (@mattisbear) July 5, 2022
Not to ignore the rest of the squad: Dale Bonner put in 14 points and played all but three minutes of the game. Clearly, he’s still a guy that Scott Drew has a lot of trust in. He flashed an improved jump shot — something that largely abandoned him last season — and had 4 assists to just two turnovers, an impressively low number given the minutes and role he played. He also tallied four steals.
Dantwan Grimes, a JUCO transfer guard who won back-to-back NJCAA championships at Kilgore College, flashed some burst and ability to get by his defender. A couple of times his drives sucked in the defense to create great assist opportunities that his teammates didn’t capitalize. Baylor currently projects to lack a true playmaker at the point. Keep an eye on Grimes to help fill that role in spots.
As for the rest, there wasn’t much to glean. Flo Thamba had foul trouble, Caleb Lohner and Jalen Bridges looked like they needed someone out there to create looks for them, although Lohner did pull down 8 boards. Zach Loveday and Jordan Turner looked, well, much as they have in previous appearances.
The double-digit loss was rarely in doubt throughout the game, although George, Bonner, and Grimes threaten to make a game of it by bringing the differential to 7 after trailing by 15+. Italy was clearly a team with cohesion and experience together. They knew what they were doing and how to move on both ends.
Baylor is still a team in progress, just like a normal college basketball team. What today showed, though, is that this team has anything but normal college basketball talent on the roster. If the matchup with Italy is any indicator, the Bears are set to have a very fun season.