LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - As Baylor University celebrates its first NCAA championship win in men’s basketball, one Baylor graduate is also celebrating, and reflecting on another year where the Bears very nearly accomplished the same thing.
Bill Rice II graduated from Baylor University in 1951 and is ecstatic at the teams win.
“First of all, it was absolute thrill as far as a feeling, it was just wonderful because I look back from the time I was at Baylor and we had a great team in those years with Jackie Robinson and all of those guys. And then the terrible scandal 18-19 years ago in which, subsequently, they were able to talk Scott Drew into taking on that mess, and then last year they were really a candidate from everything, I perceived. They were a real candidate or expected to be a contender for the championship last year. And then the virus ruined that situation. So it was a long time coming, but it was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,” he said.
Rice was a freshman when the Baylor Bears made it into the 1948 NCAA Tournament and almost won the whole thing, only being beaten by the Kentucky Wildcats in the final game 58-42. He says at the time, Baylor only had around 4,500 students.
“I began at Baylor in 1947 after graduating from Longview High School, spring of ’47, and went down to Baylor and when I got there, of course I was really a country boy in a big place. Think about thinking that Waco was a big place, or Baylor either,” he said.
He says Baylor basketball was very popular at the time.
“It was really hot, because the Baylor football team wasn’t much, but the Baylor basketball team was really, really hot. There were some great players on that team. Jackie Robinson was one,” he said. “It was a lot slower event in those days and certainly a different style in the game. There was just such a decided difference, but Baylor had some great players on that team. I mentioned Jackie Robinson, O’Dell Preston, Don Headington, a number of them.”
Rice remembered a crowd-pleasing thing O’Dell Preston would do before each game.
“O’Dell would go back to the midpoint on the court and dribble as fast as he could to the goal and do everything that he could to dunk that ball in the hoop and I’d never seen anything like that. Evidently nobody else had, and every time he did it, he did it every home game, the crowd would just go wild. ‘Look at what that guy did, he actually got high enough to dunk that ball in the goal!’ And I don’t think I ever saw him do it but one time in a game because the conditions just had to be right for O’Dell to make it. It turned the crowd into a frenzy every time we saw it. We knew it was coming,” he said.
Rice also reflected on Jackie Robinson, who he said was not only a great basketball player but who would also go on to become a Baptist preacher.
“Jackie, I would say, was the leader on that team. He was a marvelous young man. He was one of a number of young fellows studying for the ministry at Baylor and not only was he a great basketball player, he was a great preacher, and he and, I don’t know, like, 10 or 12 other preachers on the campus began preaching revival services all around the state of Texas and having fabulous revivals in Baptist churches. Jackie Robinson was on the 1948 Olympic team, and as a team member he won a gold medal in basketball for the 1948 Olympic team and went on for years and years to pastor the First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. And he retired from that pastorate and is still living in Atlanta, Georgia. I know he had a big thrill last night,” Rice said.
Rice gave a lot of credit to Baylor coach Scott Drew, who replaced the former Baylor coach Dave Bliss, who resigned after a scandal in 2003 where a Baylor basketball player was found murdered. A teammate would later plead guilty in his death.
“I’m thinking back to 18 or 19 years ago when they had that scandal and that was an unbelievably terrible thing where one basketball player killed another basketball player, teammate, and then the team and the coach tried to cover it up and hide information. That’s terrible, and this went on in the papers, tv and everything for a good period of time before they finally got it all sorted out, fired the coach ... who, by the way, had been in a real mess at SMU just before he went to Baylor, why Baylor hired him I’ll never understand ... because he had been in a bad situation at SMU, and they finally found this young guy Scott Drew, I think maybe when they hired him Scott was an assistant coach under his dad, I’m not certain if he had had a head coaching college experience, but somehow they talked him into coming to Baylor and that’s just remarkable. And so he walked through troubled times for years and years, and he would have done really well last year,” he said.
As for the future, Rice said he thinks the team is in a great position to be a contender again next year.
“Think about how much easier recruiting it’s going to be this year for Scott Drew than it was for all of these years. I think they’re going to be a contender next year, I absolutely do,” he said.