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It’s about more than winning: How Coach Scott Drew brought the J.O.Y. of Christ to Baylor’s once-troubled basketball program

Too often we can see the work to be done and forget about the role that God can and should play in it.

Scott Drew, head coach, men’s basketball team, Baylor University

As March Madness is drawing to a close, Scott Drew, the coach of last year’s NCAA championship team, has written a soon-to-be-released book detailing his success at taking a scandal-riddled program, healing it by “centering everything around God and His Word,” and then reaching the highest point possible in collegiate sports.

It’s a feat that some have dubbed the “greatest rebuild in college basketball history.”

Drew took over at Baylor’s men’s basketball team at an unenviable time. In 2003, before Drew came on board, one of Baylor’s players, Carlton Dotson, murdered a teammate, Patrick Dennehy. The ensuing investigation revealed a number of egregious violations by the former coach, Dave Bliss. These included that Bliss had encouraged players to say that Dennehy was a drug dealer to cover up the fact that the coach had violated NCAA rules against paying Dennehy’s tuition and providing illegal cash payments to other players.

Soon thereafter, Drew was chosen as the new head coach and immediately began building a culture of Christ. He said at the time that he came to Baylor “for a chance to win a national championship,” despite the fact that Baylor had been punished with crippling sanctions, including being barred from any post-season play for a period of time. Not quite 20 years later, though, Drew made good on his plan, leading his team to rout the top-ranked and previously unbeaten Gonzaga 86-70 and capture the national title.

While it would be easy to soak in the many accolades that have been thrown his way, Drew instead gives all the credit to God. “Everything we do around the program is Christ-centered,” he stated in an interview with CBN. “The great thing is we can prepare champions for life. And that’s a spiritual, academic, character formation in athletics. So for us to be able to incorporate the spiritual part has been so key and paramount to all our success and He’s blessed us.”

Joy isn’t just a feeling, it’s an action

Drew’s new book, titled The Road to J.O.Y.Leading with Faith, Playing with Purpose, Leaving a Legacyis scheduled to be released on May 3. Drew says he and the team succeeded because they didn’t just find joy in winning but in applying the priorities of “J.O.Y.”—Jesus, Others, and Yourself, and always in that order.

In fact, he says, life is better for all of us when we follow these priorities, and living those priorities is critical for helping to spread the Gospel, no matter if you’re a coach, a business owner, or a regular, everyday person. “If you’re living life for Jesus and for others, you’re going to have lots of opportunities to influence people [for Christ],” he recently told John Morris, broadcaster for the Baylor Bears. 

Taking the team from broken, bottom-barrel performers in 2003 to national champions in 2021 involved not just physical conditioning and skills improvement but also spiritual healing and encouragement. That’s where the J.O.Y. priorities came in. Drew used them to build a new Christ-focused culture, and he applies them to every aspect of his coaching. All basketball practices begin and end with a prayer, for example. Players are able to attend a Bible study if they want to. Chapel services are held before every game, with the team’s chaplain leading services for home games and the coaching staff rotating to lead services for road games. And the results show up off the court. Seven members of the 2014 team were baptized, for example, and Jared Butler, the All-American guard on Baylor’s championship team, now teaches Sunday school to children at his local church.

He added that it takes everyone involved with the team to be on board with the priorities, including his coaches, many of whom have been at Baylor for more than a decade. “It starts with a lot of love,” he states. “Players don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care. We love them and try to get the best for them.”

Drew said that while coaches like to control everything, they also try to recognize that God has the wheel and just do their best each day. And he and his staff try to surround the program with prayer. “You have to do it every day.”

And winning the national championship hasn’t changed him, explaining, “The day that I die and I go before God, He’s not going to say, ‘What’s your record? How many championships did you win?’” 

Not that he and his staff and his players don’t always try their very best to win each game. “We’re going to do everything we can,” he states, but they recognize that sports are simply a way that he and his players can glorify God. “Thank goodness, God sent Jesus for us and hopefully we win the game of life, which is more important than the trophy, a tournament, the championship. It’s God’s platform, and I just wanted to honor Him.”

Where sports and faith come together

Drew tries to instill this important concept into his players, but so too does Baylor University itself. The school’s Faith and Sports Institute, for example, provides spiritual assistance to Christian athletes. Josh Ehambe, a graduate student and assistant chaplain, said, “I was so one-dimensional, but when I came to Baylor and got into the grad program, it taught me how to focus on every dimension of my life and how to be a holistic person, and how to bring sports and faith together.”

He thinks that what he’s learned would have made him a better athlete. “Absolutely, I think I would not be so focused on performing and just play freely out there.”

He added, “The scripture tells us that perfect love casts away all fear and I think that because I didn’t love myself and because I wasn’t receiving the love from my coaches that I think I wanted and from home…. I think if I would have had these things, I think the sky would have been the limit for me on the field.”

Cindy White, program director and co-founder of the Institute, said, “We really just want to come alongside parents, pastors, coaches and athletic directors and just be a source of encouragement for them and equip them.”

White continued, “We really believe that if we can get sports right and walk in our Christian tradition then we can get life right.”

Sports are a great way to share the love of Christ, but athletes must also recognize that there is more to life than just winning. These believers are showing that they are using their opportunity to play and compete as national-level athletes for God and for others. Part of that is pursuing excellence in sports but more of it is about pursuing a walk with God and training up disciples.

Drew turned Baylor’s basketball program around by showing love and honoring and exemplifying Christ. That doesn’t mean the team never loses or struggles, but it does mean that the players grow in their faith and in their character, they know their coach has their best interest at heart, and they learn that they will be able to serve God and serve others in all things — even when their purpose moves beyond the basketball court. 

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