Baylor hits Sweet 16 at 26-11 & 5 baptisms
WACO, Texas (BP) -- Nothing changed in how Baylor men's basketball coach Scott Drew went about his work this year.
Nothing, that is, except the results -- especially the results off the court where five of his players, in professing faith in Christ, were baptized.
"I've been with [Drew] for 11 years, and the concentration has been the same every year to expose people to the Gospel and be able to present the Gospel," said Mark Wible, one of the team's two chaplains. "There have been a lot of seeds sown over the years, and we're seeing it come to fruition this year."
When the Bears face Wisconsin tonight in the NCAA's Sweet 16, most fans will see only what happens on the court. They won't see the efforts and energy that Drew regularly pours out in teaching his players not only the game of basketball, but the Gospel of Jesus.
"Winning the game of life is a lot more rewarding than a 40-minute basketball game that's so temporary," Drew said in a Fox Sports Southwest story by Dave Ubben. "To have an opportunity to help be a part of an impact on a young person's life is the best feeling."
Although the preseason AP poll had Baylor ranked 25th, everything started off according to plan for the team this season and the wins came quick and often.
Six straight wins to start the season. A loss to Syracuse. Six more wins, including a big one over Kentucky on Dec. 6. By early January, Baylor had climbed to seventh in the nation.
But as quickly as the Bears had ascended, they fell. Big 12 conference competition proved much tougher than the teams Baylor had been beating. The Bears dropped eight of their first 10 conference games, including five in a row at one point.
Drew's frustration could have been excused after Baylor lost to Kansas on Feb. 4 in the midst of the disastrous slide. Before facing the media after the game, he approached Scott Brewer, the team's other chaplain.
Drew didn't ask Brewer to pray for composure as he addressed the media. He didn't ask Brewer to pray for the team's freefall to stop. He had something far more significant on his mind.
"We may not win another game this year, and I may be a horrible coach," Drew told Brewer, as reported by Ubben, "but if any of these guys leave without knowing Christ, that will be the real loss."
Though the team was struggling, the Lord was working, through Drew, Brewer, Wible and others. On Feb. 25, Wible baptized five of the players -- Kenny Chery, Taurean Prince, Gary Franklin, Royce O'Neale and Ish Wainright -- at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, where he is associate pastor.
Wible said it's the first time in his 11 years the team has seen these kinds of spiritual results. He credits the testimony and witness of former player Jacob Neubert, who graduated last year and had a strong influence with several of the players. Neubert played a major role in bringing Baylor guard Brady Heslip to Christ in 2011.
"This year, it just kind of took off," Wible said, "and Brady has been instrumental in bringing other guys to faith in Christ or just to have a deeper walk with the Lord and being more conscious of God in their everyday lives."
Weslip's guidance and counsel were significant factors in Chery coming to faith in Christ.
"I felt like I was a new person," Chery said in the Fox Sports Southwest story about his conversion. "I felt like everything I've done bad in the past is gone. I'm starting new. I've accepted God into my life. The next morning I woke up, thanked God for waking me up, and I just had a whole new outlook."
As chaplain, Wible gives pregame talks to the team, and this year's theme was "One," based on Jesus' prayer in John 17:21 that His people might be one as He was one with the Father. Wible talked about topics such as one faith, one attitude, one mindset and one promise.
That instruction proved valuable as the losses mounted.
"Through it all, those guys never once wavered," Wible said. "Now there were questions -- what's going on? -- but they never wavered in their faith."
The players hung together, Wible said, not pointing fingers or accusing others. And eventually, the wins started coming again in mid-February. Baylor won 10 of 11 games before losing to Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament title game. Seeded seventh in the NCAA tournament, Baylor defeated Nebraska and Creighton to advance to the Sweet 16.
Regardless of what the NCAA tournament holds for Baylor, Wible said this season has been an immense success.
"Scripture says one plants, one waters and God gives the increase," he said. "This has been the year that God has given the increase, and we rejoice in that."
Tim Ellsworth is editor of BP Sports, the sports affiliate of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).