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Baylor Basketball

The Agony of March and the End of an Era

March 19, 2023
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DENVER — As Keyonte George walked off the court for what I would bet my life will be his final time as a Bear, he was inconsolable. Tweety Carter, Jalen Bridges and others tried to pick him up. He’d given his all and come up short. 

Baylor fell to Creighton 85-76. I don’t believe there’s anything Baylor could have done to beat Creighton playing this well. Others can disagree. Several players did. “There’s definitely a difference,” LJ Cryer told me in the locker room about if Baylor could have done anything tonight. “It starts with myself. I missed a few box outs.” 

With all due respect to Cryer, I don’t believe Baylor — this iteration — could have beaten Creighton with how well the Bluejays shot. The talent gap in 2023 was nearly even. KenPom favored the Jays. Vegas favored them too. This figured to be a coin flip if both teams played at the same level. “They just did an excellent job knocking down shots,” Adam Flagler told me after. Ryan Nembhard could not miss. In one key stretch, Baylor pulled within five, then Nembhard hit the second of back-to-back threes to keep Baylor a little too far to tense the Jays up. 

Creighton went 22-of-22 from the free throw line. I asked Scott Drew if this just felt like the opposite of the 2014 Baylor-Creighton game, a night where the other team flirted too closely with perfection. Drew said, “Take the free-throw line, for instance; no one is guarding us there, and for them to go 22 for 22, felt kind of like their night tonight.” 

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

To say “it was Creighton’s night” should not mask that this team had real flaws, and those flaws frame tonight's action. Baylor could not have beaten Creighton tonight. It’s a miracle this group got within 10 as Creighton hit its shooting apex. 

Baylor simply did not have a championship defense. The hope at the end of the season rested on winning a coin-flip game against Creighton, then beating an Ivy League team (Princeton) and maybe hoping that the struggles of whether Brandon Miller should even play basketball could catch up with Alabama. Then hope that things break your way in a hot shooting display in Houston. That was a lot to ask. 

The Bears, for a bevy of reasons, were not good defensively. Maybe the no-middle system has been solved. Maybe the guards weren’t long enough to pressure the ball. And maybe, with Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua limited, things weren’t going to work out like they did last season. I spoke to Tchamwa Tchatchoua in the locker room too. He said, “I play with a brace and I still don't know how to move with it. I still am getting caught on defense now and then.” 

This program has rightfully embraced championship expectations. Had Covid not canceled the NCAA Tournament, Baylor would have been a top-three seed in each of the last four dances. This is the first time since 2019 that Baylor can say it ended the season without at least a Big 12 title or national title.

That standard can rob men of joy. When success becomes that narrow misery is sure to follow. 

That’s why I think Flo Thamba had the right mindset after the game. I caught up with him and asked him how he was taking it. While some will look at the next quote as a sign Thamba didn’t buy in this season, I view it as a man who can enjoy life and understood sometimes things simply don’t work out. He told me, “Looking back, my journey was amazing. Cherish all the moments.
The reality is I won a national championship. I'm glad for the younger guys we got to experience coming back to the same tournament.” He went on, “I’ve always found the joy in everything.” 

Thamba’s quotes don’t mean that sadness is folly. Flagler had every right to feel devasated. So did George. To give everything means that sometimes you have to suffer everything. If you’ve cried when a relationship or any meaningful journey ends, it can signify that the joy you felt meant something because of the pain you experience. But Thamba has already gotten to where I think the rest of these men will one day arrive: fulfilled they got to play basketball and work around a collection of exceptional men. 

When something ends, the counterfactuals can never end. I regret that I’ll never write a long profile of George. I’d waited too long thinking the week before the Sweet 16 would be perfect it. But I’m glad I got the time to speak with him.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

He gave some magnificent quotes this week. I asked him about what would stick out about his time at Baylor, and he said, “There's so many things I could say about 10 (Adam Flagler). Overall I became a better basketball player because of him. I wouldn't change my decision at all especially knowing he was going to be here and play beside him. I kind of gave myself up and let him run the team. I got better as a basketball player but also as a person just because of the relationship we have and the way he carries himself. I'm blessed to be on the same team as Flag.” 

In the end, it’s the relationships that keep us coming back to watch a sport where almost every season we know it will end in misery. The losers that refer to it as “sportsball” don’t grasp what it means to have an event that brings people together. And for the men on this team, they lived that out directly. 

As I wrapped up what may well be the final time I talked to Flagler — which seems weird after all the hours I’ve spent talking to him over the last three seasons — I asked him what was going through his head. He told me, “Mixed emotions. Appreciation for everything. What Baylor has done for me. Coaching staff, teammates. Being able to come here from Presbyterian. Just the frustration that we weren't able to make it to the second weekend. I love these guys, and I'd go to war with them any day.” 

That’s the right mindset to have. He has those mixed emotions that I believe one day will match Thamba’s. But for now, George offered what we can only hope we think at the close of anything when doubt creeps in about whether it was worth it. He told me, “I'm just blessed to be a part of Baylor. I could have taken the easy route and gone to a blue blood. I took this route, going to Baylor, staying home. It's starting to become a big name. I love the decision I made, and I wouldn't change it.”

Discussion from...

The Agony of March and the End of an Era

6,724 Views | 13 Replies | Last: 2 mo ago by bear2be2
MashedPotatoes
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Great piece. Thank you.
DanaDane
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This was really well written and thought out, Kendall. Very nice.
BaylorLit 01
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Thamba's quote shows he was content with what he'd already accomplished. It showed in his play. He didn't want it enough - he'd already reached the top once and that was enough.

I think of all the time and years spent by the coaches recruiting George. Coaching is a grind.
bear2be2
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"There's so many things I could say about 10 (Adam Flagler). Overall I became a better basketball player because of him. I wouldn't change my decision at all especially knowing he was going to be here and play beside him. I kind of gave myself up and let him run the team. I got better as a basketball player but also as a person just because of the relationship we have and the way he carries himself. I'm blessed to be on the same team as Flag."

Let him? Thank you for your selfless service in letting a fifth-year senior and national champion run the team.

This mentality is precisely why I don't want one-and-dones on my team. These guys have never accomplished a ******* thing and they think they're making some sort of sacrifice by deferring to guys who have.
Crawfoso1973
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bear2be2 said:

"There's so many things I could say about 10 (Adam Flagler). Overall I became a better basketball player because of him. I wouldn't change my decision at all especially knowing he was going to be here and play beside him. I kind of gave myself up and let him run the team. I got better as a basketball player but also as a person just because of the relationship we have and the way he carries himself. I'm blessed to be on the same team as Flag."

Let him? Thank you for your selfless service in letting a fifth-year senior and national champion run the team.

This mentality is precisely why I don't want one-and-dones on my team. These guys have never accomplished a ******* thing and they think they're making some sort of sacrifice by deferring to guys who have.


Not at all surprised this was your take away from the beautiful article. Go find another program to root for.
bear2be2
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Crawfoso1973 said:

bear2be2 said:

"There's so many things I could say about 10 (Adam Flagler). Overall I became a better basketball player because of him. I wouldn't change my decision at all especially knowing he was going to be here and play beside him. I kind of gave myself up and let him run the team. I got better as a basketball player but also as a person just because of the relationship we have and the way he carries himself. I'm blessed to be on the same team as Flag."

Let him? Thank you for your selfless service in letting a fifth-year senior and national champion run the team.

This mentality is precisely why I don't want one-and-dones on my team. These guys have never accomplished a ******* thing and they think they're making some sort of sacrifice by deferring to guys who have.


Not at all surprised this was your take away from the beautiful article. Go find another program to root for.
Here comes the resident school marm to tell lifelong Baylor fans what they can and can't say. Piss off, dude.

That quote sheds light on why Keyonte George was the largely disappointing player he was this season. He always thought he was something he never was, and played that way to the detriment of our team. He viewed himself as KD, when he was waaaaaayyyyyyy closer to the NC State version of Al Freeman.
Aliceinbubbleland
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I agree with bear2be2. I was always puzzled why SD continued to insist on putting him in the lineup when it was evident the team played better without him. This is my only bone to pick with SD. He is too committed to playing someone who is isn't helping.
Johnny Bear
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Aliceinbubbleland said:

I agree with bear2be2. I was always puzzled why SD continued to insist on putting him in the lineup when it was evident the team played better without him. This is my only bone to pick with SD. He is too committed to playing someone who is isn't helping.

I'm wondering if a lot (if not all) of that was because it was always assumed he's only going to be here one year before he's off to his professional career and after all the time, effort, and expense it took to recruit him we better get the most we can for the one season we have him. Had he been the usual raw freshman that would be developed over multiple seasons it's likely his minutes would've been cut and maybe even his starting position lost when it became obvious that he's inconsistent at best and negates a lot of the good things he does with TOs, ill advised contested shots, lengthy periods of cold shooting, and defensive lapses. In hindsight it did get old hearing in the intro to every game we played this season about how KG is the star or the team, yada, yada when more times than not he hardly showed up for more than a two or three minutes at most and was too often more of a liability than an asset - especially down the stretch of the season/post season.

To be fair KG at times also showed he has some tremendous skills, and I realize some of the metrics the NBA uses in their evaluations are things the average fan might not notice much, but based on what I saw this past season I don't understand why the pros are so excited about this kid - at least at this point in time.
vanillabryce
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BaylorLit 01 said:

Thamba's quote shows he was content with what he'd already accomplished. It showed in his play. He didn't want it enough - he'd already reached the top once and that was enough.

I think of all the time and years spent by the coaches recruiting George. Coaching is a grind.


Not sure if it's because he already reached the top, or it's because he doesn't love basketball.

I say that with no real evidence, but in general a lot of big men play to get a scholarship and to use basketball as a tool. They don't love it, it's a job.
vanillabryce
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You never fail to take an opportunity to criticize George. Much of that criticism is earned. You very rarely credit him for anything.



bear2be2
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vanillabryce said:

You never fail to take an opportunity to criticize George. Much of that criticism is earned. You very rarely credit him for anything.
I credit him for being talented and being a good kid. I don't like his game or think he did much, if anything, to elevate the program in his one year here.

It's not personal. I just don't enjoy watching him play. And when he talks about "letting" players do things who were better and did much more for Baylor than he did, I'm going to roll my eyes hard.
Crawfoso1973
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This poster chooses to target individual players in almost all of his/her posts. Last year it was Akinjo, this year it was Keyonte. The personal hostility towards our own players is truly bizarre.
bear2be2
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Crawfoso1973 said:

This poster chooses to target individual players in almost all of his/her posts. Last year it was Akinjo, this year it was Keyonte. The personal hostility towards our own players is truly bizarre.
What's truly bizarre is the weird need you feel to follow people around and try to stifle valid discussion about our program and players.

Our coaches and players are big boys. They don't need a school marm to protect them from words on the internet. Particularly criticism based strictly on performance.
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