The man showed up at Scott Drew’s office at Baylor University this month asking if he could get a couple pieces of memorabilia signed. Only, as Drew signed the stuff and chatted with the guy, he saw that the autographs weren’t the only reason for the visit.
Drew’s guest also wanted a chance to tell the Baylor men’s basketball coach how much the school’s national championship last spring had meant to him, and how it had touched him in ways he never expected. “I’ve been walking on cloud nine since the championship,” Drew recalled the man saying. “Thank you so much.”
Drew says he’s both humbled and touched by the responses. He understands them because he has wrestled with a few himself. “This is almost three months later,” Drew said. “That energy and reinforcement is uplifting and exciting—just knowing how many people you’re able to make proud.”
I contacted Drew to ask how winning a national championship had affected both him and his program. When we spoke over Zoom, Drew apologized for running late, saying what began as a quick lunch at Whataburger had lasted longer than expected. He surely knew, on some level, that his life would never be the same after Baylor’s 86–70 victory over Gonzaga on April 5. That game almost certainly will be in the first line of his professional legacy. Baylor had never won a national championship in men’s basketball, and the entire state of Texas had only won one previously—Texas Western in 1966.
Text messages, voicemails, cards, and letters poured in from former players, peers, friends, and many others. Drew attempted to answer all of them. In early June, a documentary film crew showed up unannounced, hoping for a few minutes of his time. When the requests mount up, he and his staff use the phrase “championship problems.”
But the Baylor fans that most touch him are those who speak of lifelong commitment to the school and how their first thoughts after the game were of their late grandparents or parents and how much they would have loved it all. Others—Aggies, Longhorns, you name ’em—let Drew know that it wasn’t just about Baylor winning, but about how Baylor won. How the players shared the ball and the credit. How they were up front about their Christian faith.
“At times, you forget just how much it means to so many people,” Drew said. “They’re basketball fans, but they love our players for the Christian and spiritual aspect and just the culture of joy, and how our guys have played for each other and how they honored Christ in their accomplishments.”
Drew was a 32-year-old with one year of head coaching experience when he took the Baylor job in 2003. Baylor basketball couldn’t have been in worse shape at the time, with one player having murdered another and the reputation of both the program and the school in tatters.
“I’d come from Valparaiso, the largest Lutheran school in the nation,” Drew said. “A small, private, family-type environment that hadn’t had a ton of athletic success. My dad [Homer Drew, who was the Valparaiso head coach before and after Scott] was the first one to have a winning record in Division I, and most people were like Digger Phelps, who was at Notre Dame at the time, and said you can never win there. How we built that program, I saw a lot of similarities to how we could build Baylor’s program.”
Baylor appealed to Drew, in part, because he wanted to be at a place that would encourage him to publicly express his faith and weave it into every aspect of the program. “Every place has a niche,” Drew said, “and it’s identifying and recruiting to the niche. Baylor’s is a family-type environment, a smaller Christian school. There are families that love that opportunity. I love having an opportunity to pour into people spiritually, academically, character formation–wise, just as much as the athletic side of it. Baylor cared about all those things, and the leadership at the time I was hired had similar views. I really bonded with them.”
Drew is relentlessly positive, and his team’s JOY mantra—Jesus, Others, Yourself—struck a chord with basketball fans at a time when the public embrace of faith felt as if it was becoming outdated in popular culture. In the end, basketball fans throughout Texas found themselves appreciating the way Baylor played and the values Drew prioritized.
“It’s a blessing that people care about Baylor University, care about Baylor athletics and the state of Texas,” the coach said. “We don’t win this championship if it’s not for all the high school programs and coaches that have helped develop these kids in the AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] programs.
“So it’s a team thing. We always say it takes a village to raise a man, and so many people poured into our players and have helped make them successful.”
Early in his Baylor tenure, as he stacked one first-rate recruiting class on top of another in an effort to rebuild the program, Drew told players that signing with Baylor would be “a lifetime commitment.”
“Eighteen years later, we still get tickets to games and Baylor gear,” former Baylor player Terrance Thomas told the Waco Tribune. Another of Drew’s former players, Matt Sayman, tweeted photos of a T-shirt he received from Drew and his staff. On it were the names of all the people that had built the program.
One of Drew’s former stars, Tweety Carter, who is playing in Portugal, told the Tribune he would set his alarm to wake him in the middle of the night to watch Baylor’s NCAA Tournament games.
“It’s like another member of the family,” Drew said about his connection with former players. “One of the reasons you coach is to help young people, and just because they leave after four years, it means something when they come back and have a question for you. Or respect you and appreciate you enough to ask what you might think about something going on with them. That’s great joy and excitement.”
Coaches spend their entire lives attempting to win a championship. What they never plan for is the day after.
“Strange, right?” Drew said. So when Baylor won, he began reaching out to people who might know what to do. Recently retired North Carolina coach Roy Williams told Drew he was back on the recruiting trail at nine the next morning after winning his first title in 2005. Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said he and the team’s coach, Frank Vogel, would celebrate their 2020 NBA title “forever.” At the same time, they would not be distracted from the work that had to be done. That advice struck a chord with Drew.
“He said we’re too quick to move on,” Drew said. “The next day you’re focused on the next year. What they said is we plan ahead, but we’ll celebrate that championship for the rest of our lives. That doesn’t mean you stop living your life, but you’re going to be celebrating it twenty-five years from now. But it’s also true that in coaching, once you reach one thing, it’s on to the next thing.
“Our staff is focused on that. We like winning more than we like losing. So you’re already excited for next season. And the good thing is we have enough returning players and we’re really excited to work with them.”
And so, Drew and his staff have begun to prepare for next season even as they celebrate a championship. In replacing four of five starters, Baylor will rely on a deep bench and a recruiting class ranked twelfth by ESPN. Thanks to that standing, Drew and his staff likely will be in the mix for future prospects who might not have considered them before.
“It’s God’s platform,” Drew said. “He has blessed us with it. We’re all the same that we were before. We just have an opportunity now to have a bigger stage and bigger platform to give credit where credit’s due. It’s Jesus, others, and then yourself. That really keeps it in perspective for us coaches as well.”