The money is great and all that, but no matter how many games you have won, you are just another guy who Can’t Win The Big One if you fail to climb the Mount Everest that gets you to the Final Four.
“Getting to the Final Four,” ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla told The Post, “is not the same validation as a national championship, but it’s close. It takes a lot of pressure off you, because we’ve come to make the Final Four ‘The Promised Land’ for coaches looking for not necessarily recognition, but validation.”
Validation arrived for Scott Drew a little after midnight, when his Baylor Bears growled their way to an 81-72 victory over Arkansas.
It was only the biggest men’s basketball victory in 71 years.
Drew Gotta Believe.
He took over a scandal-ravaged program in 2003, devastated by the murder by a teammate of Patrick Dennehy, and seven years later he had it in the Elite Eight. And then he did it again in 2012.
But the cruel basketball gods were waiting defiantly for him at the top of the basketball mountain.
Until a little after midnight, when he and his terrific basketball team would no longer be denied history.
Drew wore a black Final Four hat and a net around his neck at his postgame press conference. And that everpresent smile.
“Just pure joy, excitement,” he said. “Seeing our guys have a chance to cut down a net, celebrate, it doesn’t get much better than that come March.”
We talk about monkey on backs all the time, Dean Smith had one on his back until he won that championship over Georgetown, Mike Krzyzewski had one before he won his first over Kansas.
Gonzaga’s Mark Few was asked about the monkey no longer being on his back when he finally reached his first Final Four in 2017.
“First of all, I don’t know that I have a monkey on my back,” he said. “don’t certainly wake up with one or walk around with one. So I don’t think these guys think I have one. I don’t think my wife thinks I have one or anybody in my family, close friends. Fishing buddies never talk about it. So those are the only people that really matter to me.”
Drew is a self-proclaimed Glass Half Full Guy, but he is human. Once in a blue moon, you have to believe he woke up with a Glass Half Empty.
Baylor was a threat to win it all last March before the pandemic shattered dreams. Drew’s overall body of work stands as arguably the greatest rebuilding job that the sport has ever seen. Drew has built a powerhouse program, brought the best team not named Gonzaga to March Madness. He had the top seed this time in the South Regional.
He had won 369 games at Baylor.
He desperately wanted his 370th.
Desperately wanted to take the school to its first Final Four since 1950.
And when it was over, his father Homer, the old coach at Valparaiso, where Scott Drew had assisted him before succeeding him and then taking on the monumental task of vaporizing the stench of a cesspool, stood and applauded, his smile hidden behind a mask.
“I prayed about it, I felt led to coming here, I really believed in the vision of the school … once we got into the season and you found out that most of your team were walk-ons and most of ‘em weren’t over 6-2, then you realized it might be a tougher than you originally thought, but obviously the goal was always to build a program that could consistently compete and have an opportunity to play in March.”
He did it against all odds.
“I get the positivity from my dad. … My dad’s the most positive person I knew, and I think that’s rubbed off on me,” Drew said, “and then I’ve had a staff, where iron sharpens iron.”
His Bears, who meet Houston next, held off an Arkansas team attempting its fourth consecutive double-digit comeback. Arkansas coach Eric Musselman implored his Hogs for 20 Minutes of Hell to secure their legacy as Comeback Kids.
The Hogs kept coming, kept coming, kept speeding it up, ratcheting up the defense, cut the deficit to 62-58. A deficit that had been 18 in the first half, and eight at halftime.
The Bears were sweating. What once had been a walk in the park was now a death struggle. Then the basket shrank on the Hogs, who could only blame themselves for 15 turnovers, who got too little from Moses Moody, went over eight minutes without a basket at the worst possible time.
Seventy-one years is a long time to wait for a school to wait. Maybe it wasn’t worth the wait. Maybe it was.