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By Jerry Hill - Baylor Bear Insider
FORT HOOD, Texas - You obviously can't turn a basketball player into a soldier in 27 hours.
But Baylor men's basketball coach Scott Drew hopes that the Bears' "Weekend as a Wrangler" at the Fort Hood Army base pays off with some added discipline and leadership for his team this season.
"I don't know if we're really going to classify ourselves as good soldiers," said Drew, who arranged the trip to the Fort Hood base through Col. Mark Simerly, Commander of the 4th Sustainment Brigade. "But we do understand and respect what the armed forces are about. I think anybody that spends time around a soldier knows the importance of discipline, leadership and the different qualities they possess. And being able to spend some time with them, you learn some of those and pick up some things."
Over the two-day experience, the team went through a Leadership Reaction Course and weapons training simulation, coached a quartet of Fort Hood basketball teams, made it through six obstacles on the Air Assault Obstacle Course and were trained in hand-to-hand combat.
"We're going to put them through some physical challenges, but also some things that cause them to develop leadership skills and interact as a team and promote some competitiveness within those events," Col. Simerly said. "There's not going to be any hazing or anything like that. We're going to be taking them out and giving them a chance to go through some leadership opportunities that soldiers do every day. It will give them an appreciation for what soldiers do. But more importantly, they're going to grow as leaders and grow as members of a team with their experiences today."
Told only to meet at the Ferrell Center at 7:30 Saturday morning, the players had no idea what they were doing or where they were going. But they might have had some idea of what was in store when they were issued fatigue pants and Army boots that they had to change into on the bus ride from Waco to Fort Hood.
"We knew we had a team event, but we didn't know what it was or any of the circumstances," junior guard Brady Heslip said. "It was definitely a surprise."
At least at first, it was something of an unwelcome surprise.
"I'm just not a morning person," said senior point guard A.J. Walton. "I like getting my sleep. So when we had to wake up at 7 on a Saturday morning, we were like, `Come on, Coach.' But once we got into it, it was fun. We got to meet all these guys and actually see what they to do to get them ready, so that we can continue to play basketball over here. It's just a blessing, us having them to take care of us. We are truly grateful for that."
Broken into four squads, the players, coaches and support staff first had to go through a crash course in marching training. To some, the drill sergeant's shouts of "Left Face" might as well have been a foreign language.
At the Leadership Reaction course, Walton's "Outlaws" group scored the best of the four squads. In separate training exercises, the squads had to figure out how to transport several items from one side to the other "without getting blown up."
"It was just great to see different people stepping up for the different roles we had with the obstacles," said junior forward Cory Jefferson, whose mother, Fancy Pace, served in the Army at Fort Hood. "You had Brady stepping in, Rico (Gathers), Deuce (Bello); everybody had their specific part."
"No slack," said Walton, repeating a phrase that his Outlaws group adopted.
Even the weapon training simulation became a competition. Assistant coach Grant McCasland actually proved to be the team's best sharpshooter, finishing with a total of 35 "kills."
"It's only a simulation," McCasland said. "But when you're sitting in it, it feels real. And it's a blast. Our guys are all competitive. So anytime we do anything together, it's going to be competition."
"I'm throwing Deuce under the bus. Deuce is horrible," said senior point guard Pierre Jackson. "He was missing, and I was like, `Deuce, he's right there.' And he was like, `I'm trying.'''
While Heslip hit 11 shots in one session to lead his team to a win in the 3-point shooting contest, the team coached by Jackson, Bello and freshman Chad Rykhoek won the four-team basketball tournament by beating a Walton-coached team in Saturday night's final.
"Me being a defensive player, a defensive-minded coach, it's all about defense," Walton said. "And we just didn't get it done on that end. It was a good battle, you can't win them all, but we live to fight another day."
After going through the Air Assault Obstacle Course and the hand-to-hand combat training Sunday morning, the team attended a "Welcome Home" ceremony for the 96th Transportation Company just returning from Afghanistan.
"Fort Hood is the largest military installation in the United States," Col. Simerly said in his opening charge to his "new soldiers" from Baylor. "We have over 44,000 soldiers assigned here . . . we've got over 10 percent of the Army's combat power right here at Fort Hood. So you're in a strategic location for our country. We have men and women here who have served in combat, getting ready to go into combat and returning from combat on a constant basis."
While the team returned from the trip Sunday afternoon, the partnership with Fort Hood is just beginning.
"The last couple of years, we've invited Fort Hood up and had a Fort Hood Night (at basketball games)," Drew said. "This just continues to cultivate that relationship, because I know we are so appreciative of what they do for our country. . . . Part of working together and growing and bonding is doing things like this where 20 years from now you can talk about, `Do you remember when we went to Fort Hood and that experience?'''
The Bears, coming off their second Elite Eight appearance in three years and first 30-win season in program history, will open the 2012-13 season with an exhibition game against Abilene Christian on Oct. 25.