Welcome to College Basketball's Mecca
Forget Cameron Indoor, Allen Fieldhouse and Rupp Arena.
5:15 P.M. TUESDAY, JAN. 27, 2009
JERRY HILL (EMAIL)
The true mecca for college basketball over the next seven days will be (insert drumroll here) . . . the Ferrell Center.
Starting with the men's game tonight between Baylor and 11th-ranked Texas, our own Golden Dome will host four games and some of the best teams in the country.
While the Baylor men (15-4, 3-2) fell out of the national rankings this week, the Bears could go right back in by ending a 22-game losing streak against the Longhorns (14-4, 3-1). As it is written, "there is a time for all things." And I say it's past time.
There's a reason that this game has attracted 15 NBA scouts. The Longhorns' Damion James is a possible lottery pick who can play inside or out, while Baylor senior guard Curtis Jerrells is considered a late first- or early second-round draft pick.
Then tomorrow night, the WNBA scouts will be out in full force for a matchup between second-ranked Oklahoma and No. 3 Baylor. Considering that ESPN bracketologist Charlie Crème has both of them as No. 1 seeds for the NCAA Tournament, this could be the first of four games between the two Big 12 rivals.
Paris twins, Courtney and Ashley, are dominating inside players for the Sooners (16-2, 5-0). But the Lady Bears (17-1, 5-0) counter with a solid inside-outside balance with 6-3 junior post Danielle Wilson and senior guards Jessica Morrow and Jhasmin Player. "When you look at the bookends that Oklahoma has, there's nobody physically in women's basketball that can match up with them with their strength and size," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said of the Paris twins. "It's going to be a battle in the paint."
If those two games whet your appetite, get ready for another impressive two-game swing on Sunday and Monday.
The Lady Bears host 17th-ranked Texas (14-4, 2-2) at 3 p.m. Sunday, and then defending national champion Kansas (15-4, 4-0) comes in for an 8 p.m. Big Monday showdown for the ESPN cameras.
If there's been a better seven-day run at the Ferrell Center, it certainly escapes my memory. So come for one and stay for all four. Duke and Kentucky, eat your heart out.
Can Robert Griffin's Year Get Any Better?
11:30 P.M. TUESDAY, JAN. 20, 2009
JERRY HILL (EMAIL)
Man, Robert Griffin gets to do everything!
Wasn't it enough that he became an All-American in track and field and freshman All-American in football and came within an eyelash of making the U.S. Olympic track team in the 400-meter hurdles . . . all before he turns 19 years old?
Nope. On Tuesday, Griffin wasn't just one of the masses that welcomed outgoing President Bush back to Texas when his plane arrived at the TSTC Airport in Waco. The Baylor quarterback was ushered right out there on the tarmac, as one of the special invited guests who got a personal greeting. Along with University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy and a few other dignitaries far more important than me.
There I am, standing behind Griffin's parents and far enough behind a barrier that I can barely get a good look as President Bush walks by. Or at least I think that was him. I haven't figured out yet how to use that camera thing on my phone. So as my wife said, "Everything looks like something out of X Files."
It was a good thing Heath Nielsen, Baylor's assistant athletic director for media relations, was there taking pictures. Otherwise, our best picture might have been a blurry shot of the side of the airplane. In all seriousness, though, this was a neat moment to enjoy with a few thousand of my closest friends.
"We are very grateful for the folks in Waco and Crawford and Central Texas . . . for putting up with all the nuisance of having the President as a neighbor," Bush said in his address to the crowd in Waco. "I can assure you that things aren't going to be quite as hectic these days. We look forward to seeing you as just plain ol' ordinary folks, which is what we're proud to be."
Now I know he wasn't talking about Mr. Griffin.
Just after his brief brush and photo op with President Bush, Griffin was signing autographs before crossing over the rope that was keeping the rest of us out. And during a pre-landing party that was held in Hangar 1, Griffin spoke briefly to the crowd and took pictures or signed autographs for more than an hour. Every time he turned, there was another fan waiting.
"You don't realize how much of an effect what you do has on other people," Griffin said. "It's just a special thing, and something I'll always cherish."
I would only be guessing where Griffin's loyalty lies, or whether he even voted. But as the son of parents who were both in the military, he probably had a certain affection for President Bush even before he received an invitation to Tuesday's welcome-home celebration.
"I'll always remember it, even if it wasn't like a personal conversation," Griffin said. "Just the fact that they wanted me to be here to welcome him back, that was a real honor."
Mulkey: 'Is There Ever A Break?'
2:30 P.M. WEDNESDAY, JAN. 14, 2009
JERRY HILL (EMAIL)
When you consider that the Baylor Lady Bears won the 2005 National Championship after first Oklahoma (2002) and then Texas (2003) made Final Four appearances, it's hard to say that the Big 12 has one team that's the equal to any of those this year.
But you can certainly make an argument that this is the best the league has ever been, from top to bottom. In the latest Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls, three Big 12 teams (Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas A&M) are ranked in the Top 10 and four others (Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State) are in the Top 25.
"I didn't feel that way a month ago," said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, when asked if this was the strongest the conference has been in her nine years. "But now as I look at the schedule . . . Guys, you could go 4-0 in your next four games or you could go 0-4. It's brutal. And I guess we could say that's a good thing for all of us, because hopefully people recognize it and when it comes to select teams for the NCAA Tournament, they realize what's taking place down here and don't punish us for having so much parity in the league."
Just look at the opening night of league play. Texas Tech upset then-No. 8 Texas, 65-62, for its first Top-10 win under coach Kristy Curry; the Lady Bears had to rally from a five-point, second-half deficit to knock off a Colorado team that's picked to finish next-to-last, 63-50; and A&M had to withstand a furious second-half rally to beat Missouri, the projected last-place finisher, 62-56.
"There are going to be some scores that people are going to look at twice," said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly. "But it's not going to surprise people in the end, because of how competitive it is. I've been here since the league started. And there's been a lot of great teams in this league. But I honestly believe this is the best depth we've ever had as far as who's going to win and who's going to lose. There's just so many good players, so many good coaches, and there's more experience on a lot of roster than there's been in the past."
Just look at the Lady Bears' schedule over the next 2 ½ weeks. They play five ranked teams out of their next six games (#20 Iowa State, #22 Oklahoma State, #8 A&M, #3 Oklahoma and #16 Texas). And in their one game not involving a Top 25 opponent, they have to play Tech in Lubbock.
"It's tough," Mulkey said. "It puts knots in your stomach at night. Even after victories, you still have a knot in your stomach. Because you look at the next game and go, `Is there ever a break?'''
Non-Conference Wins are Far from Nothing
11:20 A.M. SATURDAY, JAN. 10, 2009
JERRY HILL (EMAIL)
Usually, the last thing in the world I would want to do is disagree with Kim Mulkey on anything. That's just a slippery slope with no chance for a good ending.
But she said something in Thursday's press conference that got me thinking.
"We've had some tough losses here lately," said Mulkey, referring to losses by Texas and Texas A&M to Purdue and Florida State, respectively, "but that's the parity in women's basketball. And I'm sure they're telling their respective teams like we're telling ours. What does the non-conference season mean at this point? Nothing."
In terms of the Big 12 Conference standings, Mulkey's exactly right. None of the dozen victories collected by the Baylor men and women to this point means a hill of beans in the conference race.
But some of the wins, in particular, will pay dividends when the NCAA Tournament selection committee meets in March.
For the Lady Bears, it's safe to say that their 85-69 win over then-No. 2 Stanford could play into their seeding. And even wins over St. John's, Oregon and Samford are good for your resume.
And their lone, one-point loss to Wisconsin shouldn't hurt, considering the Badgers are off to a 12-4 start and ranked in the top 50 in the latest Sagarin Ratings.
As for the men's team, certainly the committee will take note of that 87-78 win over then-No. 14 Arizona State at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif. But by the end of the year, wins over Washington State, Portland State, Providence and Hartford could bump the Bears up a spot or two when the seedings are announced.
Now, if they don't build on those wins and fail to finish in the top half of the Big 12 Conference, then Mulkey's assessment is dead-on. A win over Stanford in November means "nothing" if you don't take care of business in league play.
But with the conference season opening on Saturday, my best guess is that both of these teams are positioned for solid finishes. Even if they're the last team announced, as they were last year, the Bears shouldn't have to sweat it out this time. And both the Bears and Lady Bears have the kind of early-season resumes that will carry quite a bit of weight with the selection committees.
Baylor `Family' Takes Care of its Own
10:20 P.M. TUESDAY, JAN. 6 2009
JERRY HILL (EMAIL)
Like Kim Mulkey said, I think people tend to throw around the term "family" way too much.
But when it comes to Baylor, it's hit home that this truly is a "family." And I mean that in a good way.
I'm sure a lot of you out there are like me, you like to take some of your "family" in small doses. And once Thanksgiving and Christmas come and go, you're ready for a break.
But there's a special "family" feeling at Baylor that you rarely see, even within our own families.
Shannan Barron, the mother of Lady Bear basketball player Morghan Medlock, was killed on Dec. 19 in an apparent murder/suicide at her home in Little Rock, Ark. That's an unbelievable tragedy that can rip any "family" or team apart.
But what you saw was the Baylor "family" wrap its loving arms around Medlock and her 12-year-old half-brother, Nizhan. In the hours and days after Nizhan first discovered his mother's body, he was cared for by the mothers of Baylor players Rachel Allison and Whitney Zachariason.
In the darkest times, "family" takes care of its own. And that's what Baylor did.
Instead of running home to be with her own family, Medlock said she would rather be stuck on a 14-hour bus ride with her Baylor "family" as they made it through the snow of Portland, Ore., to San Francisco, Calif.
"I knew if I left that night, and Coach (Mulkey) gave me that option, I would have been a wreck," Medlock said. "Those first 48 hours were probably the hardest of my entire life. And I was just glad that I was there with my teammates. (After the holidays), I was trying to get back here as fast as I could and get around the people that I know love me. I know my family loves me, but it's hard to take on their emotions and mine."
I've only worked at Baylor for a little over five months. But long before I was hired, I saw the Baylor "family." I remember how it reached out to help Bernice Mosby and her family when their home in Florida was destroyed by a fire two years ago.
It's the way your "family" is supposed to be and sometimes falls so short. I'm proud to be a part of the Baylor "family."