SCANDAL FALLOUT 3 ex-Baylor players click elsewhere
John Lucas III, Lawrence Roberts and Kenny Taylor went their separate ways.
A standout point guard at Oklahoma State. A dominant power forward at Mississippi State. A sharp-shooting reserve at Texas.
Each is vying for a conference title and anticipating a long run in the NCAA tournament, something they could only dream about a year ago when they were sophomores at Baylor.
John Lucas III, Lawrence Roberts and Kenny Taylor were friends from Houston who moved to Waco in hopes of reviving the Bears together. Lured by coach Dave Bliss, they expected to break out in 2004, especially with 6-foot-11 Patrick Dennehy and 6-10 recruit Tyrone Nelson joining a team that went 14-14 last season.
"We were just one step away," Taylor said.
Then came the nightmare of last summer: Dennehy went missing and was found dead about six weeks later; a former teammate was charged in the slaying; serious NCAA violations emerged; and Bliss resigned in shame.
Noting the extraordinary circumstances, the NCAA said any player could leave without having to sit out a season. The Big 12 waived a similar rule, allowing the players to stay in the conference.
Went separate ways
So Lucas, Roberts and Taylor went their separate ways. Nelson opted to stay close to home, signing with Prairie View.
Now, seeing the success that these could-have-been teammates are having around the country, Nelson can't help but wonder what might've been.
"I think about it all the time," he said.
He's not the only one.
"Think what kind of team they'd have if they had the team they should have had," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "This is the year that Baylor could have made a big move."
New Baylor coach Scott Drew doesn't spend much time thinking about it. He's too busy trying to rebuild the problem-plagued program with just seven scholarship players. It's to his credit that the Bears went into the weekend 8-18, 3-10 in Big 12 play.
Must face former team
Because Taylor and Lucas remained in the Big 12, they still must face their former team. Taylor was the first to do so, playing in Waco two weeks ago.
Despite hearing taunts of "Kenny Traitor" and boos each time he touched the ball, he hit six 3-pointers in the Longhorns' 84-58 victory.
"They said some of the things I expected them to say," Taylor said.
Lucas' turn was to come Saturday. As one of the top players in the conference, he can likely expect more intense jeering than Taylor received.
"I could care less if they cheer me or boo me," said Lucas, the son of former NBA player and coach John Lucas Jr. "I'm going down there on business and to get a 'W'."
Trio still friends
Whatever happens, Lucas will certainly discuss it with Roberts and Taylor -- the trio have remained good friends. Although this isn't what they originally hoped, it's worked out well for them.
"Each one of them ended up, through tragedy, getting blessed," John Lucas Jr. said.
And their friendship may be even stronger after what they went through last summer.
Shortly after Dennehy's body was found in a field near a rock quarry south of Waco, former teammate Carlton Dotson was arrested. Then came the news that Bliss tried to cover up his own recklessness by asking players to portray Dennehy as a drug dealer.
"It was almost like a movie to me," Lucas said. "It was one of those things where it seemed like someone was playing a joke on me. I just got down on my knees and prayed about it."
Once the NCAA and Big 12 freed them, Baylor's three leading scorers found new schools within a week, giving up their dream of finding success together in college basketball.
Turned down offers
While the established players went to high-profile programs, incoming freshman Nelson turned down offers to attend Alabama and Georgia Tech so he could remain near his home in Hempstead, Texas.
Nelson, once considered among the nation's top 100 recruits, averages 15.3 points and 8.2 rebounds for Prairie View. But the Panthers are one of the weaker teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, a league of 10 historically black colleges.
"It's been OK, so far," Nelson said. "I like it up here."
Lucas had thought about leaving Baylor even before Dennehy's death. Feeling that he'd been overlooked in Waco, he never even returned to pack his belongings.
He's earning plenty attention as the undisputed leader for sixth-ranked Oklahoma State, averaging 15 points and 4.7 assists a game. He's been a perfect addition for a team that desperately needed a point guard.
"I wasn't sure how he would blend in, but he's such a wonderful person," coach Eddie Sutton said. "It's a real blessing to get John."
Oklahoma State has given Lucas a chance to experience some of the things he says he didn't while at Baylor: a winning team, a rabid fan base and true camaraderie among teammates.
"I'm just smiling and I'm loving every minute of it," he said.
Filled a need
The 6-foot-9, 235-pound Roberts filled Mississippi State's need for a big man quite nicely. He's averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds for the nation's seventh-ranked team, and is among the top candidates for Southeastern Conference player of the year.
"He was a perfect fit for us," coach Rick Stansbury said, "and I think we were a good fit for him."
Taylor averages almost 8 points a game for No. 11 Texas and is considered the team's most reliable 3-point shooter. His transition from a Baptist school with about 14,000 students to one of the nation's largest public universities has been relatively smooth.
"It feels real good," Taylor said. "We get to play big-time basketball every night. We play in front of packed houses every night and get that exposure we didn't get."
If any good has come from last summer's tragedy at Baylor, Roberts figures, it's that his friends have prospered at their new schools.
"Considering the circumstances, and all that happened," Roberts said, "things have turned out pretty good."