When you think about key losses for Baylor on the offensive side of the ball, the ones that come to mind immediately are left tackle Danny Watkins and running back Jay Finley.
Those two played integral roles in leading the Bears to their first bowl game in 16 years. But tight end Brad Taylor also leaves some big shoes to fill after hauling in 76 catches for 993 yards and six touchdowns in his career, including 20 receptions for 269 yards and two TDs last season.
In fact, it may take two pairs to fill them. Junior Jerod Monk (6-4, 250) and redshirt sophomore Jordan Najvar (6-6, 260) are battling for the starting job this spring and will give the Bears a pair of NFL prototypes for two-tight end sets.
"Brad was more of the hybrid tight end kind of guy - faster, but he was a great blocker as well," said quarterback Robert Griffin III. "But with Monk and Najvar, two country boys, they're going to get in there and block for you. And if you throw them the ball, you know they're going to catch it, because they know that not many of them are coming their way."
Even with a loaded corps of receivers at the outside and inside spots, Monk and Najvar were both busy in the two scrimmages to date. Monk has caught five passes for 62 yards, while Najvar has made three catches for 19 yards.
"We're being used a lot this spring, which is good," said Najvar, who sat out last season after transferring from Stanford. "Coach (Art) Briles has talked about how well we've been doing. And as long as we keep doing what we've been doing, we're going to be a big factor with third downs and especially the run game and passes over the middle."
Coming out of Klein Oak (Texas) High School, where he was an all-state pick and Under Armour All-American, Najvar was rated the 12th-best tight end in the nation by Rivals.com, 20th by ESPNU and 23rd by Scout.com.
But he opted to transfer to Baylor after a redshirt season at Stanford.
"I decided to leave Stanford to be closer to my family," said Najvar, the oldest of six children. "I'm the oldest of my brothers, and basically I didn't know how tough it was going to be out there for a year and coming home only one time out of the year. I was looking at all the Texas schools to see where I related best with the coaching staff and what place gave me the best chance to see the field. Right when I met (Briles) and talked to him on the phone, I knew his motives and his intentions are the same things I plan on doing."
Transferring after going through the 2010 spring training with the Cardinal, Najvar missed out on Stanford's 12-1 season and Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
"I'm still good friends with them, so I was happy for them," he said. "I was in spring ball with them, and I knew they were going to have a good year with (quarterback Andrew) Luck. I just felt liked I'd rather be here somewhere than stick it out there. So I figured it was best for me to come home."
In Luck and Griffin III, Najvar will have worked with arguably two of the best quarterbacks in the country.
"Robert's the real deal, you know. Basically, he can make every throw," Najvar said. "When you have a guy like Robert, you've just got to put your trust in him, because he's going to put you in the right spot to succeed. I've been lucky and blessed. Not too many people get to play with the type of quarterback that these two guys are."
A former high school quarterback that led Wylie to the Class 5A Division II state championship game as a senior in 2008, Monk is a rare breed of athlete that has had a touchdown catch, pass and rush on the collegiate level.
Two years ago, when Griffin III suffered a knee injury in the third game of the season, Monk was used as a QB in some short-yardage sets. He scored on a one-yard run against Kent State and then threw a three-yard TD pass to fellow tight end Justin Akers against Iowa State.
"I hope it's in the playbook somewhere," said Monk, when asked if he was still on call for short-yardage QB duties. "I'm ready for it."
Last year, Monk hauled in eight catches for 69 yards in a back-up role, making TD catches against Rice and Colorado. But his biggest adjustment in the move from quarterback to tight end has been learning how to block.
"Just being more physical," he said. "At quarterback, I was sitting back there in a red jersey at practice. And now I'm protecting a guy in a red jersey and hitting people. Everything was a lot different my freshman year, because I just wasn't used to it. But now, I'm getting the hang of everything and it's almost coming second nature."
It's also helped Monk to learn under the tutelage of both Taylor and Akers the last two seasons.
"Two seniors have now graduated in front of me, so the experience they've given me really helps me out now as I'm getting older and picking up from there techniques," he said. "I think I've grown a lot mentally in playing the game at tight end."
The Bears will go through one more practice on Thursday and then wrap up their four-week spring training with the annual spring game at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Highers Complex.
Brooklyn Pope has a simple formula for staying on the floor: Just produce.
"If I go out there and get it going, she's going to leave me out there as if I was a starter," said the 6-foot-1 sophomore forward who's averaging 7.1 points and 5.6 rebounds off the bench for the third-ranked Baylor Lady Bears (32-2). "This is a new season, so I think coach (Kim) Mulkey is going to go pretty much with whoever brings it. Coming off the bench, that means nothing at this point in the year. You have to be an impact player."
A former McDonald's All-American who led Fort Worth (Texas) Dunbar High School to the 2007 Class 4A state championship, Pope rotates with fellow sophomore Destiny Williams at the "4" position opposite 6-8 sophomore post Brittney Griner.
"I could start either one of those kids and feel comfortable," Mulkey said of Pope and Williams, a transfer from Illinois. "I think it's a testament to Brooklyn: `I'm going to keep fighting through this patch of missed shots and get you some rebounds and keep helping you block shots and defend.' And I think she's playing pretty darn good right now."
When Pope signed with Rutgers and Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer as part of one of the top recruiting classes in the country in 2008, she was hoping to take the Scarlet Knights back to the Final Four.
But as a true freshman on a team that made it to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, she averaged just 2.1 points, 2.0 rebounds and 6.0 minutes per game.
"I sat out for two years, basically, because at Rutgers I didn't play," said Pope, who had to sit out last season after transferring. "She'd play us for 30 minutes in a blowout, and then the next five games you wouldn't get off the bench."
As Pope's bio in the media almanac declares, Baylor is "the place I've always wanted to be." But sitting out last year because of NCAA transfer rules was one of the most difficult things she's ever had to do.
"It was tough, because I'm already lazy, naturally," she said. "So not being a focal point of having to get out and do work, that's not good for me. It's self-destruction waiting to happen."
Much like she did as a freshman, when she was defending 6-4 post Kia Vaughn every day in practice, one of Pope's main contributions to last year's Final Four team was defending and banging against Griner every day.
"When you play defense for two years, I guess you can get pretty good at it," said Pope, who ranks second on the team in blocks (25) and fourth in steals (26). "I was getting banged up by Kia Vaughn every day (at Rutgers). . . . You've got to keep playing defense, no matter what, because if the other team doesn't score and you don't, either, then at least it can be 0-0."
Like her playing time formula, Pope's strategy for surviving last year was simple. "Just wake up and go to sleep every night and just keep doing that over and over, and eventually your time will come."
Pope's "time" came at the start of the season, when she started Baylor's first 16 games and posted five of her seven double-figure scoring performances, including a 20-point, 14-rebound effort in beating a Notre Dame team that ended up as the No. 2 seed in the Dayton Regional.
But even during that stretch, Pope was struggling with her offensive game, missing point-blank layups and bricking shots within breathing distance of the rim. Williams became eligible at the end of the fall semester and replaced Pope in the starting lineup three games into the conference season.
Mulkey said both players showed signs of being rusty, "but you knew the talent was there. You had followed them through their careers, and you knew it was just a matter of time before they blended in with the rest of them and kind of figured out what their roles are and just do what they do best. Those two players complement each other very well, and they're such a big part of what Griner is able to do down on the block."
Pope is shooting just 42.5 percent from the field and 51.4 percent from the line. So she knows her jump shot is something she has to improve, "and then I'll be like magnificent, I guess."
"That's something that can be learned, that can be taught," said Pope, who hit two 3-pointers in her one season at Rutgers. "I do a lot of stuff that can never be taught, because it's purely talent. But a jump shot at the free-throw line, if you shoot 100 of them a day, you're going to make them by the time the season comes if you start in June or July."
While Sunday's 66-30 win over Prairie View A&M was Pope's first NCAA Tournament game as a significant contributor, she did get to experience that trip to the Sweet 16 at Rutgers.
Just like Baylor is doing this year, Rutgers hosted the first two rounds and upset second-seeded Auburn, 80-52, in the second round before falling to sixth-seeded Purdue, 67-61, at the region semifinals in Oklahoma City.
"It helps me to know how exciting the situation is," said Pope, who had 17 points, five boards and two blocks in the opening-round win over Prairie View. "I'm not really game-experienced, but I do know what type of emotions it takes to just continue to progress, game by game."
And if the Lady Bears get past ninth-seeded West Virginia in Tuesday's 8:30 p.m. second-round game, they could eventually meet Pope's former team in the region final at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Rutgers (20-12) opened with a 76-51 win over Louisiana Tech on Sunday and faces second-seeded Texas A&M (28-5) in the second round in Shreveport, La.
"We don't really talk about us possibly meeting, that's not really a conversation piece," said Pope, who exchanges text messages with several of her former Rutgers teammates. "However, the idea of them having to play Texas A&M, I'm excited for them. And I hope they beat A&M, because I respect Texas A&M for what they've done, but I'd rather play Rutgers for a first time than Texas A&M for a fourth time, if that's how it goes."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - As much as she might want to at times, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey knows that she can't take it easy on freshman point guard Odyssey Sims.
From Sheila Lambert to Chelsea Whitaker and from Angela Tisdale to Kelli Griffin, as a former point guard herself, Mulkey has demanded and usually gotten the best out of every point guard that's ever played for her.
"She's going to have to learn to take it. To whom much is given, much is expected," said Mulkey, whose third-ranked and top-seeded Lady Bears (29-2) face Kansas State (21-9) in the Big 12 Championship semifinals at noon Friday at Municipal Auditorium.
"(Odyssey has) been given the reins to be the point guard of this basketball team. She's been given a lot of awards, and deservedly so. And with that comes a lot of attention. With that comes a lot of expectations. And I can't look at the fact that she's a freshman. We're trying to win a national championship, we're trying to win another Big 12 Tournament championship. And she's got to be able to handle that."
And as Mulkey puts it, "So far, so good."
A McDonald's All-American and the WBCA/State Farm National High School Player of the Year, Sims averaged 22.5 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds for an Irving (Texas) MacArthur team that was ranked No. 4 nationally and No. 1 in the state.
But she was expected to ease into this whole college thing. Coming off reconstructive knee surgery for a torn ACL, Sims would spend a year under the tutelage of Griffin and then take the reins next season.
Then when Griffin quit for personal reasons before the season began, the mantle was thrust on Sims just 10 games into her rookie season. And instead of wilting under the pressure, she thrived, earning Freshman of the Year and first-team All-Big 12 honors from the league coaches while averaging 13.8 points, 3.2 assists and 3.0 rebounds.
Most importantly, she's helped the Lady Bears win 29 games and a Big 12 regular-season championship and put them in position to receive a No. 1 seed when the NCAA Tournament selections are announced on Monday.
"Odyssey has never lacked for confidence. She's very confident in her ability," said Mulkey, when asked how Sims had handled the pressure of being the team's point guard. "Sometimes, Odyssey plays her best basketball if I can figure out a way to make her mad . . . challenge her. And she is at a position that is so important in the playoffs. We all know Brittney (Griner) is considered the `best in the world,' as (Oklahoma State coach) Kurt Budke said, with her size and playing above the rim. But truthfully, how far and how deep we go in the playoffs may rest on Odyssey Sims' shoulders."
True to her word, Mulkey will ride her freshman point guard and challenge her to improve in areas that are sometimes lacking. At a recent practice, she yanked her off the court for not being able to defend dribble penetration.
Sims just shrugs it off and says it comes with the territory.
"She gets on me probably the most, besides (Griner) and MJ (senior guard Melissa Jones)," Sims said. "Considering I'm the point guard and I have to lead the team and I'm the coach on the floor, she expects a lot from me. And when I don't give her what she expects, then it's a totally different story. I try my best to do what she asks."
Nothing that Mulkey says or does surprises her, though. She's exactly the same coach that Sims wanted to play for her when she committed to Baylor after her freshman season.
"I knew what I was coming into whenever I committed, because I knew what kind of coach she was," Sims said. "I like how she coaches. I need somebody like that to push me and stay on me."
Within minutes of receiving the NCAA's ruling to declare freshman forward Perry Jones III ineligible for pre-enrollment benefits, Baylor Director of Athletics Ian McCaw made it clear that he's not taking this one sitting down.
"We are profoundly disappointed in the timing and determination in this matter," McCaw said in the statement issued through the university. "This outcome appears to be inconsistent with other recent, widely discussed NCAA decisions."
The timing of the ruling couldn't have been worse, coming on the same day the Bears played Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 Championship. Without Jones III in the lineup, Baylor was bounced from the tournament, 84-67, ending any hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid.
"Perry is like a brother to me. . . He's my little brother," said junior forward Quincy Acy, who had 21 points and a career-high 15 rebounds in the loss. "And it's like somebody coming in your house and punching your little brother. You take that personally. So that's how I played it."
Jones III, a second-team All-Big 12 pick who was averaging 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, was declared ineligible for what the NCAA ruled a pre-enrollment amateurism violation/preferential treatment.
But the freshman from Duncanville, Texas, had no knowledge of three, 15-day loans between his mother and his AAU basketball coach that were provided while he was still in high school. The loans were repaid in a timely manner, according to interviews conducted by Baylor officials and the NCAA staff.
Prior to his enrollment at Baylor, Jones' AAU coach also paid for his travel to a pro football pre-season football game in San Diego, Calif.
Lawrence Johns, who had known Jones III since at least the sixth grade, told The New York Times that he made three payments to Jones' mother, Terri, to help her cover her owed mortgage two years ago. Johns said the loans, totaling no more than $1,000, were repaid.
"She paid it back," Johns told the newspaper. "What was the difference? This was two years ago. It's got nothing to do with it. You know how you ask people to borrow something and they pay it back? What's the big deal? I don't get that."
McCaw indicated that Baylor has been cooperative and transparent in working with the NCAA through this process, and that no Baylor representatives were involved or aware of any preferential treatment between the AAU coach and Jones' family.
"Perry is to be commended for being cooperative and forthcoming during this unfortunate process," McCaw said.
Baylor coach Scott Drew, obviously frustrated by the decision, said he hopes "no other institution, no other team, no other family or player ever has to go through what we did the last couple of hours."
"The Jones family are unbelievable people, unbelievable people," he said. "Terri Jones works I don't know how many jobs to take care of her family. Big Perry has been there for his family.
"Terri Jones . . . her kid is the No. 1 projected pick in the NBA draft, and yet she's mad when he gets a B on his paper. This is a lady that would crawl to make sure nothing happened wrongful to her son. As a coach, I can't give any more of a compliment than if I had a daughter, which I do, and she married Perry Jones, I would be a very happy and lucky man. That's what makes it tough as a coach."
Because the alleged violations occurred pre-enrollment, "it doesn't affect Baylor at all," McCaw said in an interview with TV sideline reporter Holly Rowe.
McCaw also said he was disappointed with the NCAA's inconsistency in similar cases.
"You always look at case precedence and fairness," he said. "And certainly if you look at some of the widely publicized cases in recent months, particularly Auburn and Ohio State, it doesn't seem as though this decision is consistent with the outcome in those cases."
In both of those cases, despite reported and confirmed violations, players from both schools were allowed to compete in post-season bowl games.
McCaw said he is "anxious to make our appeal" to the NCAA, which could make a ruling as early as Thursday if the appeal is heard.
Jones III, a finalist for the 2011 Wayman Tisdale Award given to the national freshman of the year, leads all Big 12 freshmen in both scoring (13.9 ppg) and field goal percentage (54.9).
Until his appeal process is completed, neither Jones III nor the university will have a further comment on the matter.
In his first two years at Baylor, Quincy Acy was a SportsCenter regular as one of the top dunkers in collegiate basketball. If he didn't make the Top 10 plays of the day, somebody wasn't watching.
What's scary is we haven't seen the best of him yet.
"Even my best dunk (in a game) is probably like a `5' on my scale," said the 6-foot-7 junior forward, who's averaging 12.1 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. "I still haven't gotten anybody yet. I've got a couple people in practice. I want somebody in there (to dunk on)."
And while that's still a big part of his game - he probably averages at least two highlight-reel dunks per game - Acy's game is evolving.
On an Athletes in Action tour of Poland and Germany following his freshman season, Acy worked on his mid-range jumper and stretched his game outside of the paint. He's even attempted two 3-pointers this season.
"I still need to work on a lot of my skill set," he said. "It's gotten a lot better since I first got here, because it was strictly athleticism. I'm getting better, but I still have a long way to go. This summer, I'm mainly going to work on my footwork."
Your immediate thought is that he's trying to add some "game" for a possible transition to the NBA ranks after next season. But all he's trying to do is become a better player at the collegiate level.
"If they want to take me at the next level, it will probably be for what I provide as far as energy, because they already have a lot of skill players," he said. "That's not really my main focus with that. I just know that if it's a tight game, and coach (Scott) Drew calls a play for me, I want to be able to deliver."
The biggest change with Acy, though, is off the court. With only one senior on this year's team, Acy has had to step up and become more of a vocal leader on and off the court.
"My first two years here, we had (Curtis Jerrells in 2008-09) and then last year we had Tweety (Carter) and Ekpe (Udoh)," Acy said. "So I would just come off the bench and dow hat I do. I just liked to dunk and do all that type of stuff. But it's more than that this year. I still have to provide that. But at the same time, I have to be an older role model, because I'm one of the older guys on the team. It's just a big turnaround. I went from being one of the bottom youngest to one of the oldest. It's just odd."
Being a people person, Acy said a "lot of my natural characteristic are that of a natural leader." But there are other times, when "I might just sit there."
"I know there are times when I need to be more vocal," he said. "I'm still learning, still working on it."
One of the best signs of his leadership - and at the same time, humility - came after a 20-point loss at home to No. 2 Kansas. After starting the first 17 games this season, including four in Big 12 play, Acy went to coach Drew and told him he wanted to be "that spark" the Bears needed off the bench.
"He's obviously capable of being a starter," Drew said, "but he preferred coming off the bench, because he felt like he could give the team a lift and thought he could bring us a spark and benefit us more that way. You don't find that a lot nowadays, because most people want to start so they can see their name up there and hear their name announced and they can tell everybody they're a starter. So I thought that was very mature of Q and very humble of him to want to do that for our team."
The payoff for Acy came on Sunday, when he was named the Big 12 Conference Co-Sixth Man of the Year with Levi Knutson of Colorado.
"My main goal is I just want to win. That's it," he said. "Whatever I have to do to help our team win is what I want to do. I'm not into getting my name called and all that. That's silly. If I'm not starting and I'm not playing, then it's a little different. But I could be on the bench and still motivate people. I just want to win."
Acy and the Bears (18-12) face Oklahoma (13-17) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the first round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Sic 'em, Bears!!!!
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