WACO, Texas — These are heady times at Baylor.
A few months ago, quarterback Robert Griffin III became Baylor’s first Heisman Trophy winner and the men’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA round of 16 for the second time in three years. Fundraising efforts are going gangbusters and applications to enroll are up.
And then there are the Lady Bears, Kim Mulkey’s women’s basketball team that just went 40-0 in capturing the program’s second NCAA championship. The win Tuesday night against Notre Dame wasn’t close, either, with Brittney Griner leading the way in an 80-61 rout.
Did we mention that all five starters are expected back next season?
Some 2,000 people turned out Wednesday to welcome the team back to Waco after its championship game win in Denver.
“You do not win championships with one player, two players,” Mulkey told the crowd. “You need five, six, seven, eight people heading the same direction. I told them in the locker room after the game, many hours after the game when we were still there: ‘Any one of you can go to another university and play 40 minutes a game and average double figures, but you would not have gotten this trophy right here.’
“And I tell you what: You better get your tickets to New Orleans. See you next year.”
Mulkey (coach of the year) and Griner (player of the year) led the way
Baylor president Ken Starr called the past several months “epic,” ending with Tuesday’s win.
“You combine that with men’s basketball and 30 wins. And go back to football with the Heisman. Now we have the Wade Trophy, the Heisman of women’s basketball. Are we thankful? Are we grateful?” he said.
All of Baylor’s sports teams, men and women, have qualified for the postseason so far this academic year, and the 400-plus athletes on campus had a combined 3.16 GPA last fall. And before Griner grabbed the spotlight, it was Griffin on the gridiron last fall.
Griffin, who got his political science degree in three years, set or tied 54 school records in 41 games and led the Bears to only the second 10-win season in their 112 years of football. They had never even had a winning record in the Big 12 before RG3 arrived with coach Art Briles, who was at Wednesday’s celebration; Griffin was in Denver to cheer on the Lady Bears in person.
School officials have noted there were more than 40,000 applications for the upcoming fall semester for only about 3,000 freshman spots. That’s up from 15,458 applicants for the Fall 2005 class, right after the Lady Bears won their first national title. More than $250 million in new athletic and academic facilities have been added in the past decade, and another $120 million in capital improvements are under way. The Bear Foundation, the primary fundraising arm supporting the school’s 19 athletic programs, contributed nearly $7.7 million for scholarship support during the 2010-11 academic year. It was the seventh consecutive year with a record total.
There are also plans for a new campus football stadium for the school of 15,000. The family of former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., a 1958 Baylor grad and former regents chairman, recently gave the school the largest capital gift ever — more than $20 million — for the stadium the school hopes to have for the 2014 season.
For now, Mulkey can celebrate and recover from her recent diagnosis of Bell’s palsy, which can cause a partial facial paralysis. And she can take comfort in knowing she will have a strong team coming back. She recalled last year’s loss to eventual national champion Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament.
“Last year, on that ride home from Dallas, Brittney Griner texted me, from the back of the bus to the front of the bus. ‘Coach, we won’t ever let you down again,’” she said.
And they haven’t.