By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer
With a men’s national championship in the books, it’s easy to call Baylor a basketball school going forward. The thing is, Baylor has always been a basketball school. Buried deep within Texas, the football capital of the universe, Waco has been a basketball stronghold for ages.
As early as 1911, Baylor had become a basketball power. Head coach Ralph Gaze, who took over for Baylor’s first ever coach, posted a .788 winning percentage in his three seasons at the helm. That mark remains the best in school history.
In 1932, Baylor won its first conference championship, taking home the SWC crown. The title was especially sweet, just five years after one of college sports’ greatest tragedies. In 1927, Baylor was on a bus trip to Austin to play Texas. Cold and rainy conditions would lead to a deadly crash, killing 10 players. As many Baylor students and alums know, those athletes are memorialized on campus. Even in tragedy, basketball is woven into the fabric of Baylor. In fact, there are nine more statues of basketball players on Baylor’s campus than there are statues of football players.
Really, though, Baylor basketball is historically so much more successful than Baylor football is. Big shoutout to Kim Mulkey and the women’s team for that one. Since Mulkey arrived on campus in 2000, Baylor has been a national power. In 13 of Mulkey’s 21 years in Waco, the Lady Bears have won some kind of championship, be it Big 12 regular season, Big 12 tournament or national championship.
Baylor regularly runs teams out of the gym, due in large part to their roster full of WNBA players. Stars like Brittney Griner, Lauren Cox and Kalani Brown are just some of the Lady Bears making their mark at the next level. This season, DiJonai Carrington and DiDi Richards are set to join the Baylor alums in the pro ranks, and stars like NaLyssa Smith are just a year away from reaching that point. There are few sports programs anywhere as good as Baylor women’s basketball, and they’ve been the driving force in Baylor sports for over 20 years.
For a while, the men were in a different situation. Coach Gaze, whose tenure ended in 1913, was the last coach before Scott Drew to have a career winning percentage over .600. After the Immortal 10 tragedy, you’d think it couldn’t get much worse for Baylor basketball.
As was discussed on every NCAA tournament broadcast this year, a Baylor player murdered another in 2003, leading to the end of coach Dave Bliss’ time as a Bear. Scott Drew inherited the program and the rest has been history. Drew took Baylor to no worse than a Sweet 16 in 2010, 2012 and 2014. In 2010, the Bears were just a few minutes away from shocking Duke for the team’s first trip to the Final Four since 1950. Whether or not the calls that decided that game were accurate is up for debate, what isn’t though, is that football was doing nothing of the sort.
Baylor football has had its ups and downs, but they’ve never had the consistency that the basketball programs have had. RGIII was a national sensation, yes, but so are Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. Ultimately, Baylor football has come up short in all the places that Baylor basketball has not. Football, for a number of reasons, was unable to make the College Football Playoff in 2014. The same thing happened in 2019. Not to mention the sexual assault scandal that rocked the program in between those two seasons.
Football is king in Texas, there’s no denying that. A lot more kids grow up wanting to be a Cowboy than they do wanting to be a Spur.
In Waco? Not so much.
Baylor has often struggled to pack McLane, but filling the Ferrell has been less of a problem. Does it hurt that Baylor has been ranked in the top five more in the past five years than ever before? No, it certainly doesn’t. Baylor has it good in a lot of sports, but they might have it best on the hardwood.