MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Scott Drew heard the whispers. Sometimes it would originate from fans, but more often it would be writers and TV pundits. It hurt the most, though, from his peers, spoken by those in the coaching industry, especially when they were going head-to-head against Baylor in recruiting battles.
He can’t coach.
There aren’t three words that hit someone in the coaching profession harder.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me,” Drew said. “We’re all human.”
Maybe it was because he wasn’t doing enough with the highly-rated guys he plucked in successive years: Perry Jones (2010), Quincy Miller (2011), and Isaiah Austin (2012). Austin finished third in the country coming out of high school, Miller fifth and Jones was eighth in the consensus rankings.
Or maybe it was because they were envious he was at Baylor, beating them for heralded players.
“If you don’t have good recruits, you can’t recruit,” Drew said. “If you have good recruits and don’t win enough, you can’t coach.”
“If you’re doing well, there’s always going to be noise,” added his brother, former Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew. “He was such an elite recruiter than it overshadowed his coaching. He brought in such extreme talent to Baylor, so they couldn’t question that. They just went down the checklist and eventually got down to coaching.”
But those days are long gone.
Now Drew has put Baylor in select company as one of just six Power Five programs in the country to win at least 18 games in each of the last 12 seasons.
Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan State and Baylor.
Five Hall of Famers and Scott Drew.
This is a guy who has taken Baylor from the absolute graveyard after one of the worst scandals in the history of college sports, stemming from Carlton Dotson’s murder of teammate Patrick Dennehy. There were severe sanctions: Baylor wasn’t even allowed to play non-conference games Drew’s third season in Waco.
Drew led Baylor to the NCAA tourney in his fifth season back in 2007-08, advancing to the Elite Eight in both 2010 and ’12. But despite signing elite recruits in Jones and Austin, Drew was unable to get Baylor to the tournament in either player’s freshman season – 2011 and ’13, respectively – earning NIT bids each year.
That’s when he chatter began.
“Of course it affected me,” Drew said. “We all want to be praised and not criticized.”
The coaching community no longer sticks its nose up at Drew. Coaches don’t accuse him of cheating nowadays after he beats them for a player (the NCAA came in for a year and didn’t find anything). Drew has earned universal respect from fans, the media and also from the coaching fraternity for what he’s done in Waco.
Baylor has the second-best winning percentage among Big 12 teams over the past decade behind only Kansas. Since 2012, Drew is 2-1 against Kentucky’s John Calipari, 2-1 against Oregon’s Dana Altman and won his lone matchups against Arizona’s Sean Miller and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.
“Scott’s teams have been very consistent and difficult to prepare for,” Kansas coach Bill Self told me. “It’s one of our game’s best coaching jobs to do what he did, and take it from where it was when he inherited it to where it’s now been for years.”
Eight NCAA tournaments in the last dozen years, and the 2019-20 team just might be his best overall group. The Bears just reeled off three victories in Myrtle Beach this past week, including a resume win over a Villanova program that has won two national titles in the last four years. They did it with forward Tristan Clark, Baylor’s best player a year ago at this time, limited to 20 minutes per game while he still recovers from a knee injury.
“They are really good,” ‘Nova coach Jay Wright said after the loss. “It wasn’t that we were bad; they were and are just really good.”
This team is different. It’s built on tough, physical and athletic guards like Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell, who can get to the basket and also make shots from the perimeter. Drew no longer plays zone defense – as has been the case for the last five or six seasons – because he has guys who can defend at a high level.
“That was the difference in the game,” Wright said. “They guarded down the stretch.”
No one on the current team cracked the top 50 coming out of high school, and most weren’t ranked at all. In fact, Drew hasn’t nabbed a top-50 player since Austin landed in Waco back in 2012. In that same span, John Calipari has brought in 34 players that were ranked in the top 50.
Drew had been long regarded as a recruiter who couldn’t coach, and that was used against him in the industry. That’s changed now, especially after watching Baylor develop anonymous guys like Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neal into NBA players.
“In recruiting, everybody’s going to use whatever they can to get a player,” Drew said.
And that’s when it hurt the most.
“You know when you care?” said Wright, who received his share of criticism prior to winning his first national title. “When you have to fight it in recruiting. That’s when it really matters.”
“Scott’s a really good coach, but we all heard it and we read it,” he added. “But ask anyone in the Big 12 if he can coach and they’ll tell you how good of a coach he is.”
Drew doesn’t worry about the critics as much anymore. He’ll turn 50 next year and is in his 17th season as the head coach in Waco. The noise has settled down and virtually no one questions whether he can coach these days.
But there’s still one item missing from his resume: a Final Four appearance.
“I’m more focused on what it would do for our program and what it would mean to our past and present players,” Drew said. “On a big picture, it would help take Baylor to the next level perception-wise.”
And it would also provide further validation that Scott Drew can coach.