WACO, Texas (AP) — With Pierre Jackson gone from Baylor, six different players have taken a turn at point guard during practice for the Bears.
Coach Scott Drew is up front about how the Bears can make up for the loss of Jackson, the Big 12 leader in scoring and assists who in his two years led them to an NCAA regional final and an NIT championship.
"First of all, we return a great front court, and that makes it easier for all guard play to begin with," coach Scott Drew said. "I think we have multiple people that are capable of handling the ball, distributing the ball. Instead of maybe being so dominant with the ball in one person's hand, I think we'll share it a little bit more this year."
The Bears got a big boost with the return of 6-foot-9 senior forward Cory Jefferson and 7-1 center Isaiah Austin, both potential first-round NBA picks had they left school after last season for early entry in the draft.
Jefferson and Austin both averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game last season. Jefferson stepped up even more in the Bears' five-game run to the NIT title by averaging 21.6 points in those games, and he played for the USA National Team over the summer.
Taurean Prince, a 6-7 forward, should get more opportunities after showing flashes in his limited playing time as a freshman. And Rico Gathers is a bruising power forward.
When Baylor opens the season against Colorado on Nov. 8 on the Dallas Mavericks' home court, Kenny Chery will likely be the starting point guard. Like Jackson, Chery comes to Baylor as a junior college transfer, and he's from Canada like guard Brady Heslip, another returning starter.
Chery averaged 16.4 points and 3.7 assists last season at State Fair Community College in Missouri. He had 48 steals and shot 45 percent from 3-point range. Another key newcomer for the Bears is 6-foot-5 freshman Ish Wainright, a physically imposing player capable of playing multiple positions.
"He's somebody that you love to coach every day in practice," Drew said. "He walks on the floor and he has a smile, brings energy to the team."
Here are five things to watch for the Baylor Bears in Drew's 11th season:
LOST A LOT: The Bears had two senior guards last season with Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton, the latter playing in a school-record 98 victories. The duo combined for two-thirds of the Baylor's assists and half its steals last season. Jackson led the Big 12 with 19.8 points and 4.9 assists a game. He was the first player to lead a major conference in both scoring and assists since Jason Terry for Arizona in 1998-99.
ISAIAH'S SHOULDER: Part of the reason Austin returned for another season at Baylor was that his family thought another year in school would help him gain strength and keep maturing on and off the court. At the same time, Austin had surgery on a shoulder that bothered him through his freshman season. He wouldn't have been able to work out for NBA teams unless he had passed on the needed procedure.
FLEXIBLE AND VERSATILE: Prince, Wainright and Denver transfer Royce O'Neale (if he gets an NCAA waiver to play this season) provide Baylor three big bodies who are capable of playing on the wing or in the post. There were times last season when Baylor started three guards, the tallest being 6-2 Brady Heslip. "We have a lot of flexibility and versatility with this team," Drew said. "You can go big or small, fast or strong, and I think the size we have is pretty impressive."
FINAL FOUR PREVIEW?: Four months before the Final Four is played in the Dallas Cowboys' massive stadium, Baylor will host Kentucky in a game there Dec. 6. The Bears last season became the first team ever to beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena and have a win over Kansas in the same season.
CLOSE TO THE TOP: Drew goes into the season with 178 victories at Baylor, 23 shy of matching Bill Henderson's school record of 201 wins over 19 seasons during two stints from 1941-61. The Bears won 23 games last season, a mark they surpassed three times the previous four seasons. Baylor had only 21 wins combined in Drew's first three seasons after he took over a program with a decimated roster and facing NCAA sanctions that included reduced scholarships and recruiting visits.