2022 NCAA Tournament: How a quote from Clemson coach Dabo Swinney still motivates reigning champion Baylor

When Clemson coach Dabo Swinney spoke to the media after the Tigers topped Alabama in January 2019 to win his second nationwide championship, he could not have identified that his reply may set off one other staff to hoist a championship trophy. However when Swinney talked about JOY, he drew an viewers within the Baylor basketball places of work in Waco, Texas.

“For me, pleasure comes from specializing in Jesus, others and your self,” Swinney stated. There are such a lot of coaches which might be so deserving of a second like this. To get to do it as soon as, and now to get to do it once more, it is a blessing. It is merely the grace of the nice Lord to permit us to expertise one thing like this. Once you get a younger group of people that imagine, who sacrifice, who’re dedicated to a singleness of goal, nice issues can occur. You’ll be able to’t write a Hollywood script like this. Solely God can do that.”

Swinney may need been speaking by the media to Clemson followers. However he may as effectively have been talking on to Baylor coach Scott Drew. Since taking on within the ashes of the Dave Bliss period, Drew stated he was targeted on what he referred to as, “a Christ-centered program.” Baylor assistant Jerome Tang famous that the Bears tried to emulate “I’m third,” a message typically repeated by former Drew participant Greg Tonagel, who coaches at Indiana Wesleyan.

However one thing in Swinney’s speech caught with Drew.

“It simply resonated with coach like, man, that straightforward phrase sums up what we have been about,” Tang stated. “And he got here in, and he says, ‘You realize, I need to construct on on that.’ It is only a easy option to describe what we’re about, and Baylor being the most important Baptist faculty within the nation, we’re allowed to share our religion.”

Similar to that, the tradition of JOY was born.

“Everyone has a catch phrase, a mantra,” Drew stated. “This stated what we wished to be.”

What Baylor wished to be made the Bears extra geared up to cope with the challenges offered by COVID-19, and in the end led to this system’s first males’s basketball championship in 2021


The religion facet of Tradition of JOY is immutable. However Tang additionally stated at its coronary heart, JOY is about servant-leadership and placing others first. For a basketball staff, meaning sacrificing for the nice of the entire.

“Once we discuss ourselves, we are saying, take what’s the factor you do finest and be keen to share it with the staff and for the staff. So it is not about, ‘Properly, now it is the third factor. So now I get to consider me,'” Tang stated. “But it surely’s, ‘No, how do I take what I do finest, interject it into the staff and the chemistry.'”

Baylor created issues like “shared sugar,” with gamers getting sweet for having probably the most assists or the very best assist-to-turnover ratio after video games. And whereas the Bears used movie research to choose aside opponents’ tendencies, in addition they used it to focus on interviews the place Baylor gamers shared the credit score with their teammates.

That rapidly constructed staff chemistry, as did a 2019 journey to Italy, in line with former Baylor ahead Mark Very important. The Bears had begun sacrificing the 12 months earlier than, when accidents to Tristan Clark and Makai Mason compelled gamers into unsure roles, however Very important stated that did not really matter as a result of these have been compelled sacrifices. As an alternative, Baylor wanted to study to provide freely for the nice of the staff.

“We went on a visit to Italy and it modified the whole lot,” stated Very important, now a good finish with the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs. “That journey proper there modified numerous stuff so far as bonding as a result of all people needed to bond with any person as a result of we did not need to be on the market. So that you attempt to determine it out. My recommendation to any coach any more, take a staff abroad and watch them bond. As a result of they are not comfy with their scenario, the residing scenario, the meals, the whole lot. You have to determine it out. It is an entire completely different tradition over there. In order that’s my finest recommendation to these guys. If you wish to win a nationwide championship, go forward and take your staff abroad.”

Baylor gained all 4 video games abroad, setting the stage for Drew’s finest season to that time, a 26-Four run and a possible No. 1 seed within the NCAA Match earlier than it was canceled for COVID-19.

“I feel (the nationwide championship tradition) began the 12 months earlier than, once you had Freddie Gillespie and Mark Very important (they usually) have been Mr. 95s,” Tang stated. “We name 95s, what do you do the 95% of the time you do not have the ball in your fingers, to assist the staff win, setting screens and diving for free balls and blocking out and working the courtroom arduous each time so the protection has to (react) to you.”

Tang pointed to protect Devonte Bandoo, who got here off the bench and will have began for quite a lot of groups, basically laying the pavement for Adam Flagler to be the identical participant a 12 months later, as Flagler sat out after transferring in.

“That is the perfect chemistry — I am not gonna mislead you — that is the perfect chemistry we have ever had,” Very important stated of that group. “As a result of in case you actually give it some thought, man, I have been to the NIT, misplaced within the second spherical (of the NCAA Match). My freshman 12 months, I used to be redshirted, and we misplaced within the Candy 16. And none of these groups bonded the best way we bonded. I imply we had guys that have been cool, however on the identical time, it wasn’t that very same factor we had in 2020 and 2021.”

Finally the 12 months, and Baylor’s championship hopes, got here to a crashing halt.

“We had a bunch of men that even then have been keen to share and sacrifice and their season received reduce brief,” Tang stated. “And we did not get to play within the match. And so when MaCio (Teague) and Jared (Butler) examined the waters and determined to return again, we got here again with a goal of eager to win the entire thing. 

“And so we may speak lots about, hey, in case you actually need to win the entire thing, that is what has to occur,” Tang stated. “You sacrificed to return again for this. And so when your man coming off the bench, sees that your starters, your guys who may have left, got here again and they’re sacrificing, it is easy for them to be keen to sacrifice additionally.”


After the NBA Draft was delayed till November 2020 due to COVID-19, Kentucky coach John Calipari warned that groups would want to take an extended have a look at the psychological well being facet.

“Are you able to think about the nervousness? Are you able to think about the ideas going by a teen’s thoughts? Properly, it brings me again to my very own staff,” Calipari stated on the time, on The Paul Finebaum Present. “All of us higher have psychologists, sports activities psychologists. We higher not overlook what our children are going by mentally.”

Baylor introduced an skilled staff again. 4 starters returned from the earlier 12 months, and all had sacrificed not directly to get there: soon-to-be All-America guards Butler and Davion Mitchell, Teague and Very important, with Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua becoming a member of Very important as new Mr. 95s. However the psychological well being impediment the staff confronted as school basketball groups basically quarantined off the courtroom was one thing new.

From Tang’s perspective, Baylor was uniquely geared up to cope with that problem.

“Properly, I feel Scott Drew was the particular person finest geared up to steer in that scenario. Coach didn’t enable the bubble to be a jail,” Tang stated. “It wasn’t a lockdown for us.”

Drew, as is typical, deferred Tang’s reward, noting that the Bears merely adopted the lead {of professional} sports activities franchises in coping with psychological well being. However the Bears additionally did not sit on their fingers. The teaching employees saved an open line of communication with Monique Marsh-Bell, the varsity’s affiliate athletic director for psychological well being companies, asking her for actions and methods to maintain the burden of quarantine off the gamers.

In spite of everything, not each participant handled issues the identical method. Very important stated among the Baylor gamers have been homebodies who loved the possibility to take a seat alone with video video games or their research. That wasn’t the case for Very important.

“I can communicate for myself the place I’ve to let free generally as a result of I’ve that very same Dennis Rodman persona so far as like, ‘Coach, you know the way I’m, you know the way my background is, that I am unable to simply keep and I am going loopy if I’ve to stare at partitions all day,'” Very important stated. “It was actually attending to me at one level, I could not even go away the home. So far as simply strolling my canine outdoors was most likely the perfect I may do … It was actually mentally draining for me.”

So the Bears leaned on Marsh-Bell. Cornhole grew to become a full-team exercise. Heated UNO video games grew to become the norm. And the Baylor social media staff captured the staff’s Join Four match, even because the Bears have been on the staff resort for the NCAA Match.

“Simply the group of men have been nice guys,” Tang stated. “They actually favored being round one another. Some groups get bored with one another. I would by no means performed cornhole … I do not assume most of our guys had, and I am telling you MaCio Teague grew to become a cornhole champion. There have been some knockdown drag-out competitions with cornhole and Join Four and UNO.

“We did a bunch of issues that basically helped our guys to really feel comfy and never really feel like they have been in lockdown,” Tang stated.

That additionally included a staff karaoke day.

“We actually favored karaoke,” Drew stated of the coaches. “I am unsure the gamers favored it as a lot.”

“That is the truth that we have been singing they usually weren’t,” Very important stated, laughing. “They have been having fun with us, man. I really feel like they have been simply so joyful to see us smiling, laughing, laughing,  simply (to) be sure you know, we have been all mentally good.”


On the courtroom, the Bears have been caring for the enterprise facet. They gained their first two NCAA Match video games, over Hartford and Wisconsin, by double digits. And whereas some coaches speak concerning the journey house between match weekends as energizing — the gamers head again to a cheerful campus stuffed with back-slapping and well-wishers — the ever-optimistic Drew stated he thought there was a bonus to remaining within the NCAA Match bubble.

“I feel in numerous methods it was a optimistic as a result of we have been all the time in a position to contact them, understand how they have been doing and the way they have been feeling,” Drew stated.

On the courtroom, the Bears have been rounding again into type after shaking off the rust from a three-week COVID absence in February. Tang stated there have been thrice in the course of the season he thought the Bears have been unbeatable, and the second of these occasions got here within the second half of an 83-69 win at Texas on Feb. 2. Then COVID hit this system, with the Bears not returning to the courtroom till Feb. 23.

The third of these ‘unbeatable’ occasions? When the staff practiced earlier than the Villanova recreation.

“Two days earlier than we performed Villanova, that was the following time I stated, ‘Woo, I do not know if anyone can beat us,'” Tang stated. “We had gotten again to that time the place on the courtroom, the communication, how they have been taking part in, simply their interplay with one another … it was particular.”

Baylor shot poorly within the Villanova recreation, making simply 3-of-19 from deep, however the Bears’ protection snapped again into place and Baylor gained 62-51. Baylor then reached the Remaining 4 with a nine-point win over Arkansas.

And because the stakes received greater, Very important stated the Bears stayed free whereas their opponents tightened up.

“We felt that lots as a result of we have been a veteran staff, and it was simply our confidence and our swagger,” Very important stated. “Like, we felt that we knew we have been champions like earlier than we even (did it). Once we gained the Large 12, we already knew we have been gonna win the Large 12 and we received a championship? We have been like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re successful a nationwide title.’ We did not see anyone beating us.

“Then once more, we have been higher than numerous groups,” Very important stated. “I can provide the straight reply on that one too: We simply knew we have been higher than numerous groups due to that JOY issue, man. Like we knew who we have been, we knew our id and I simply felt that we knew that no one may do this with us if we simply be who we’re.”

Two extra double-digit wins later, over Houston within the Remaining 4 and a beforehand unbeaten Gonzaga within the nationwide title recreation, and the Bears have been reducing down the nets.


That is the place the Bears need to be on the finish of this 12 months’s NCAA Match too. And Baylor enters the NCAA Match as a No. 1 seed for the second consecutive time, thanks partially to a participant who plugged proper in to the Baylor tradition.

The Bears misplaced 4 starters, together with a star-studded backcourt, however promoted from inside, with Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer becoming a member of the beginning lineup after starring as reserves a 12 months in the past. The purpose guard spot nonetheless wanted fixing, and the Baylor employees discovered a plug-and-play possibility in Arizona switch James Akinjo. In a season the place quite a lot of transfers have did not dwell as much as lofty expectations, Akinjo earned first-team All-Large 12 honors and was an enormous a part of the explanation the staff repeated as Large 12 champions.

“It is a work ethic factor. He suits our tradition,” Tang stated, when requested about how Akinjo slot in instantly. “We’ve numerous guys that spend numerous time within the fitness center. And I imply, Waco, Texas, you’ve got received Baylor College, you bought a couple of very nice eating places, a pair film theaters, however there’s not numerous distractions. And in case you come right here, it is since you’re actually severe about your basketball. And so there are different locations in case you’re nervous about nightlife and all the opposite stuff there are different locations you may go, however in case you’re actual severe about your basketball and eager to get higher, that is this can be a good spot for you.

“He match that tradition. And so when our guys who already right here see him within the fitness center as a lot as they see him within the fitness center, they’re like, ‘Oh, he is one among us,'” Tang stated. “And when guys spend time within the fitness center collectively, they construct relationship and chemistry. They usually study one another. And I do not assume James had been at a spot the place there have been this many guys within the fitness center as a lot as he was. And he was like, ‘Man, you guys are severe about this down right here.'”

Tang referred to as Akinjo a winner and a “blessing,” noting that this 12 months’s staff is a continuation of the Tradition of JOY the staff has labored to construct. Drew attributed a few of that to this system’s alumni, who will help a participant discover his function.

“Whether or not it is a switch or a fourth 12 months participant or a one-and-done, we are able to normally discover somebody who shares their experiences that they will relate with. Gamers sometimes take heed to different gamers greater than they take heed to coaches, sadly,” Drew stated, laughing.

Amongst these alumni is Very important, who stated he is saved an in depth eye on this 12 months’s staff.

“All proper, I see it, I see it in ’em,” Very important stated of the Tradition of JOY. “I am not simply saying that as a result of that is my staff, I really see it in ’em. I really feel like there’s some issues they will do in another way than we did. However I really feel like so far as loving one another, I see it. They’re taking part in collectively; they cross the ball. You’ll be able to inform how a staff loves one another by the best way they cross the ball to one another.

“When a man passes the ball to you they usually belief you and inform you to shoot they usually give it again to you to shoot once more, they have belief and love for you,” Very important stated. “So I see it in them. I really feel like they’ll go to the Remaining 4, if not, an Elite Eight for positive. I would like’ em to win all of it. However that is simply me being sincere.”

Requested for recommendation he would give this 12 months’s Baylor staff, Very important went again to JOY.

“Simply be yourselves,” Very important stated. “For all my athletes, , simply play a job. Purchase into what your coach is doing. And successful will get you to the NBA. Successful will get you to the NFL. Successful does all that for you. But it surely all begins with placing Jesus first, then others, then your self.”


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