Gonzaga’s Mark Few and Baylor’s Scott Drew have cemented spots among the best in the college basketball coaching profession with the respective rise of their programs.
Rewind a couple of decades and that notion might have seemed far-fetched to just about everybody but the two young head coaches.
Prior to Few’s promotion from assistant to head coach, Gonzaga had been to only two NCAA Tournaments, including the 1999 team’s Elite Eight run that initially put the program on the college basketball map. Drew accepted the coaching position when Baylor was in an unimaginable situation following the murder of a Bears player by a teammate and an ugly scandal that led to the firing of coach Dave Bliss.
The last decade or so, both programs have routinely produced NBA players and are usually in the national championship conversation every season. That figures to be the case again, but both have work to do as No. 14 Gonzaga (5-2) and No. 6 Baylor (5-2) prepare for Friday’s clash at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“The job Scott has done at Baylor is stunning, that’s a good word to use,” former North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said shortly after watching the Tar Heels’ four-overtime loss to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland. “He’s from a basketball family, basketball is in his blood.
“They’ve picked up transfers, they’ve picked up JUCO kids and all the kids they picked up were great kids and they all could really play. Those two programs the last several years have been off the charts. Mark and I go back a long ways. He’s one of the best friends I have, one of the greatest coaches ever in our game. What he’s done has been remarkable.”
Few dreamed big when few others thought the Zags could emerge as a West Coast Conference kingpin, let alone a national powerhouse. The Zags have never missed an NCAA Tournament in Few’s 23 seasons as head coach.
Drew endured a 21-53 record in his first three seasons, but the program slowly turned the corner and made the NCAA Tournament by his fifth year. Baylor reached the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012.
“Those are, in my mind, the definition of Hall of Fame coaches, Scott Drew and Mark Few,” said Xavier coach Sean Miller, whose first stint with the Musketeers began in 2004-05, one season after Drew took over at Baylor. “They’re good on the court and the other thing, I think to be at one place for so long is so difficult to do. It says a lot about how unique and great they are. … They’re two of the all-time best.”
Drew left Valparaiso for Baylor after one season as head coach. He was 31. He needed an experienced assistant and he eventually brought then 39-year-old Matthew Driscoll with him from Valparaiso to Baylor.
“Everyone told me (going to Baylor) was professional suicide,” said Driscoll, who assisted Drew for six years before becoming the head coach at North Florida in 2009. “Coach told me in my interview (at Valparaiso) that he wanted to be a high-major coach. He didn’t want to just stay at Valpo and do what his dad (Homer) did. That got me really excited.”
Driscoll paraphrased a John Maxwell leadership quote to describe how Drew pointed Baylor in the right direction.
“Everybody talks about vision and it looks like this or that,” said Driscoll, whose North Florida squad lost to GU 104-63 in the season opener. “The great visionaries don’t tell you what they do … they take you where you want to go.
“If you listen to his (introductory) press conference, he talks about a national championship and he was always about the players. It’s about the Jimmys and the Joes. It makes the Xs and Os look that much better. The other thing that kind of propelled us was once you get one (great player), then you get three and the next thing you know you get seven. Players want to play with really good players because it’s going to help them out down the road.”
Drew earned his first national championship when Baylor ended Gonzaga’s bid for an unbeaten season with an 86-70 victory in the 2021 NCAA title game in Indianapolis.
“It’s one of the most amazing stories in sports,” Few said of what Drew has accomplished at Baylor. “It was about as low as low could be, just apathy plus all the stuff that had happened. He’s just such a positive person and a positive force, and that’s what his program is like. He’s really got that thing going. He’s a good guy, too, so it’s nice when good things happen to good people.”
Gonzaga has been a No. 1 seed five times, including the top overall seed the past two seasons. The Zags reached the championship game in 2017 and 2021 as a No. 1 seed.
They clinched an automatic berth by winning the 2020 WCC Tournament and were expected to be a No. 1 seed before March Madness was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a GU-Pepperdine telecast in 2021, ESPN’s Jay Bilas called GU’s rise to national prominence “one of the greatest success stories, I think, in American sports history.”
“After you do it for 20 years, you start comparing to other teams, other sports, and certainly in basketball there are very few teams that you could say have had a 20-year dominance streak and dominant run,” Bilas told The Spokesman-Review in 2021.
Few, Drew and their coaching staffs spent time together during the 2021 NCAA Tournament, which was held in the Indianapolis region. They paired up on the pickleball court and Few said they maintained an undefeated record.
Asked recently if Drew is the better pickleball player, Few quickly said, “He’s not, he’d tell you that.”
“They’re super tight,” said Driscoll, who received a ring from Baylor’s national championship. “It started when the teams would scrimmage each other. They’re very similar, always wanting to get better. I think that’s why they hit it off very well.”
That’s evident in their programs’ standing in the college basketball landscape. Few is 663-131, putting him 33rd on the all-time Division I wins list. Drew has 404 wins at Baylor and has guided the Bears to 10 NCAA Tournament appearances. Baylor probably would have joined the Zags as a No. 1 seed in 2020 with a 26-4 record.
“Those two are great coaches, great friends of mine and I enjoy the heck out of them,” Williams said. “And I’m looking forward to watching the game Friday.”
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