• December 22, 2014

College Basketball After 2-8 Big 12 start, surging Bears look again like team that can make big March Madness run

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Posted: Monday, March 10, 2014 4:30 am

Celneque Bobbitt doesn’t catch every Baylor basketball game, but the Harker Heights head boys basketball coach is always up to speed on the state of the Bears.

With one of his greatest players, Royce O’Neale, and a fellow Killeen High legend, Cory Jefferson, starting for the Bears, how can he not?

When Jefferson scored a game-high 21 points in his final home game as a Bear — a 74-61 win against No. 16 Iowa State — Bobbitt was in attendance.

And like many prognosticators who have taken notice of the Bears’ seven wins in the last eight games, Bobbitt saw a team that he believes can make a run this week at the Big 12 Tournament and, later, at the NCAA Tournament.

“If you look at Baylor’s lineup, they’ve got the big front court with guys, between Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, and just from what I’ve seen at the Iowa State game, they don’t have a lot of guys that can match up,” Bobbitt said.

Yet Bobbitt is particularly impressed with the rise of O’Neal, a University of Denver transfer who has worked his way into the Bears’ starting lineup in his first season in Waco.

Bobbitt and his players teased O’Neale earlier in the season for constantly deferring to his teammates.

But that is a distant memory as O’Neale has been a key contributor in the Bears’ rise in the Big 12, even scoring a career-high 22 points in a crucial win against West Virginia.

The scoring outburst came as no surprise to Bobbitt.

“Royce can score,” Bobbitt said. “It’s funny when I hear these commentators like, ‘Leave O’Neal open. That’s the guy to leave open.’”

Yet Bobbitt respects his former star for tailoring his game to fit the best interests of the team.

And it has paid dividends for Baylor (21-10, 9-9 Big 12).

“Royce does such a good job of passing the ball these days. He’s like Baylor’s glue guy,” Bobbitt said. “Every team needs a glue guy, the guy that’s going to do all the dirty work and really doesn’t get all the glory.”

And, of course, Bobbitt, a proud Killeen High alum, has immense respect for his fellow Roo, Jefferson, who is looking to put the finishing touches on a decorated college career.

“Cory is Cory,” Bobbit said. “Cory is the go-to man at Baylor. He’s been there the longest, he’s persevered, he’s redshirted, so he should be the go-to person at 6-10 and coming off this summer, he played on that Olympic team.”

Not surprisingly, Bobbitt, a former big man himself, believes post play will be the key to the rest of the Bears’ season, however long that is.

And with twin towers in Jefferson and the 7-foot Austin, the Bears have what it takes to make their season last a long time.

“When Baylor plays inside out, they’re a heck of a better team from when they’re starting the game shooting jump shots,” Bobbitt said. “When Cory and Isaiah get going and then Rico Gathers comes in off the bench and they establish they’re inside game, and if they stay with their inside game and continue to work on defense, they could be a team to reckon with.”

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