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Baylor back to teaching with younger team after missing NCAA

There are days at practice when Baylor coach Scott Drew sees a lot of improvement from his players. Other days end with a headache.

Such is life with a vastly changed roster and a bunch of new players.

“We’re a younger team. We’ve been in the last few years able to have veteran leadership and stay old,” Drew said. “This year we’re back to teaching.”

After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, the Bears go into Drew’s 16th season with nine newcomers on the roster, and only three lettermen from last season available to play. The top four scorers last season, three of them starters, are gone.

“It hit us more this year than any other year that we’ve had,” Drew said.

The only returners are senior guard King McClure (8.1 points per game), and sophomores Tristan Clark (6.8 ppg, 4.5 rebound per game) and Mark Vital (6.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 2.2 assists per game).

“Whenever a coach has a senior that loves the school as much as the staff does, you know you’re in good shape,” Drew said of McClure, Baylor’s only returning senior. “He’s been a great teammate and leader during his time at Baylor and is doing a great job with the young guys.”

There are two transfers with Division I experience, including the first graduate transfer ever at Baylor.

Graduate transfer guard Makai Mason has played only one game over the last two seasons due to foot issues since scoring 31 points for Yale when the Bulldogs beat Baylor in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Mario Kegler is a 6-foot-7 sophomore guard/forward who redshirted last season after transferring from Mississippi State, where he started 31 games and averaged 9.7 points as a freshman.

Baylor opens the season at home Nov. 6 against Texas Southern.

ON THE OTHER SIDE

Baylor didn’t need any real introduction to Mason, the 6-1 guard who started 30 games for Yale in 2015-16, when the Bulldogs beat Baylor 79-75. Their season ended with a loss to Duke in their next game.

“We didn’t have to explain who he was or what he could do, they saw it all firsthand,” Drew said. “Why we recruited him wasn’t just because of our game. It was because of what he had done that whole year and when he played SMU, Duke, USC, and he was efficient in our game.”

Drew said the key for Mason is knocking off the rust after playing only one game the past two years because of the foot issues. But the Bears have also limited his reps at times and given him extra days off to make sure he’s healthy.

COACH LINDSEY

Senior guard Jake Lindsey is redshirting this season after having hip surgery last month. He will have a season of playing eligibility remaining after serving in a coaching role while he rehabs.

“He says he would obviously much rather play because this coaching stuff is harder than he thought,” Drew said.

Transfer guards Macio Teague (UNC Asheville) and Davion Mitchell (Auburn) are also redshirting this season.

NEAR THE BOTTOM

Baylor was picked ninth out of 10 teams in the Big 12 preseason poll conducted by the coaches.

“We’re young, we’re really young,” McClure said. “I don’t blame them for putting us ninth.”

THE SCHEDULE

The Bears will play at home for eight of their first 12 games before their Big 12 opener Jan. 5 at No. 20 TCU. That non-conference slate includes a Dec. 21 home game against No. 14 Oregon. They will play at Wichita State and at Arizona in the first half of December.

“We challenged ourselves in the non-conference,” Drew said. “Hopefully that will get us ready for what we will face in Big 12 play.”

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