New looks & high hopes for Baylor basketball programs
Adam Flagler, Sarah Andrews, L.J. Cryer, Ja’Mee Asberry — there will certainly be familiar names leading the reigning Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball champions when the regular season tips off for both Baylor programs this Monday.
But both teams will also heavily feature a few newcomers fans should get to know: Keyonte George, Aijha Blackwell, Jalen Bridges, and Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, just to name a few.
A lot has changed for each program since the last time they took the court in game action, but the expectations remain high for both squads. And why not? The men have won back-to-back Big 12 titles, and the women have earned 12 straight conference championships. For head coaches Scott Drew and Nicki Collen, the early objective is to integrate new players alongside those returning veterans in the non-conference schedule and be ready for another run through the rigorous Big 12 field come January.
The Baylor men enter the year ranked No. 5 nationally and picked by league coaches to repeat as Big 12 champions. A new-look team will aim to make that happen. Only three players who saw significant minutes in last year’s NCAA tournament are back this year, led by preseason All-Big 12 selection Adam Flagler. Injuries factored into last year’s finish, and while the Bears will be without forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, they’re buoyed by the return of guards L.J. Cryer and Langston Love, who have been cleared to practice.
Leading the newcomers on this year’s men’s team is Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year Keyonte George, the highest-rated commit in program history. Transfers Caleb Lohner (BYU) and Jalen Bridges (West Virginia) add versatility and experience to this year’s team.
The Baylor women will also begin the year in the top 20, coming at No. 18 in the preseason AP poll, but the Bears otherwise find themselves in an unfamiliar position: underdogs. Picked to finish fourth by Big 12 coaches, the Bears have the opportunity to surprise with a mix of talented newcomers and returnees. Junior Sarah Andrews is the Bears’ leading returning scorer, a preseason All-Big 12 selection who battled through injuries to deliver a career year, one she looks to build on this year. Honorable mention Big 12 selection Ja’Mee Asberry, who led the Bears in minutes, also returns, along with key players off the bench in Caitlin Bickle and Jaden Owens.
They’re joined by four D1 transfers and Nicki Collen’s first recruiting class, which ranked in the top 10 nationally. Aijha Blackwell, an all-SEC performer at Missouri, is expected to make her presence felt right away, earning Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year honors — the fourth consecutive Bear to do so. At Mizzou, she averaged a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds per game, recording the highest rebounding average in Tigers history. Blackwell is not the only newcomer to earn immediate honors; freshman Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, a McDonald’s All-American in high school, was named Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year.
The season begins for both programs on Monday, when the men host Mississippi Valley State at 11 a.m., followed that evening by the women hosting Lamar in their season opener at 7 p.m. Both season and single-game tickets are now available (for both men and women) as Baylor opens its final full year in the Ferrell Center. (Worth noting: The best way to secure season tickets for year one in the new Foster Pavilion is to become a season ticket holder this year.)
Sic ’em, Bears!