MaCio Teague was properly conscious of the actual fact Arkansas had rattled off three straight double-digit comebacks in three match video games. As he strode into Baylor’s locker room at halftime, he knew the vibe was off. The highest-seeded Bears’ first men’s Final Four berth in 71 years hung within the stability. Baylor performed properly, however the Razorbacks had lower its result in eight factors at halftime. The kind of March-specific strain you possibly can’t simulate had began to to seep in. Teague, spoke up, his messaging pointed and fast. Preserve it easy, keep collectively.
Already within the room was Mark Important, Baylor’s eldest statesman and resident pot-stirrer, as conscious of the stakes as anybody. It was on his thoughts too. We will not come this far simply to return this far. He let Teague do a lot of the speaking. “A variety of guys had their head down,” says Mark Important. “[MaCio] was like man, the sport’s not over with. If something, we lose this sport, we’re gonna beat ourselves.”
“That was the message I needed to get throughout,” Teague says. “No matter something that is mentioned, we’re [still] within the Elite Eight, and all people’s nonetheless on edge. No matter what occurs, we’re not gonna go additional until we’re going as a unit.”
Teague and Important, each seniors, aren’t the faces of their group—that designation belongs to juniors Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler, All-American degree gamers who deal with the ball, provide a lot of the offense and garner a lot of the nationwide consideration. Scott Drew comfortably performs eight deep, however Baylor goes as these 4 returning starters go. It tends to work properly: the Bears are 52–6 during the last two seasons, getting into Saturday’s Last 4. It was Teague and Important who finally broke the Arkansas sport open with lower than 5 minutes to go, the previous nailing consecutive threes, the latter placing again a missed floater for a thunderous, loud two factors, which kind of introduced the eventual consequence.
To level out the unusual yin and yang intertwining Baylor’s seniors borders on lazy cliché. However on the similar time, it’s sitting proper there. And everybody feels it. Mitchell and Butler are beloved teammates and projected first-round NBA draft picks. Everybody is aware of the offense and protection primarily run via these guys. But the Bears are removed from the one group in school basketball with bonafide expertise. And it’s the weird dynamic between Important and Teague that’s laid the muse for a tradition of accountability, one which’s transcended the previous couple of years of Baylor basketball. “They aren’t afraid to harm anybody’s emotions,” says one Baylor staffer.
“My complete factor is, no one desires to be screamed at,” Teague says. You scream at individuals, it is like combating hearth with hearth. You are not carrying out something. Effectively, Mark does that. He is aware of the way to get individuals to reply that approach.”
Watch a Baylor sport and discover Important as he bowls his approach across the courtroom, dripping with emotion. The 6′ 5”, 250-pound energy ahead flexes and fouls and screams and channels power, generally at gamers, generally at officers, at all times someplace. He successfully toes the road between dirty and gregarious. Important likes to invoke Dennis Rodman infrequently in interviews. One advantage of minimal followers at this yr’s match was that somebody prevented an enormous collision with Important through the Candy 16 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, as he barreled over a nook desk chasing a unfastened ball. “He performs one velocity, and that is full velocity,” Drew says.
“I believe I low-key set the tone,” Important says. (Creator’s be aware: there’s nothing low-key about Mark Important.) “As a result of, bro, I am a major instance. I rating 5 factors. However I am going to go seize 15 rebounds and play as exhausting as I can for y’all. And I nonetheless get all this recognition.”
Teague is cerebral, considerate and direct with teammates. He may be humorous, however he’s at all times severe. He ping-pongs concepts off of Drew throughout video games, and his coach cites him as a stabilizing pressure. He is made the All-Massive 12 group two years working. The 6’ 4” guard’s work ethic has change into the stuff of legend throughout the program. On most days, he’ll spend an additional 45 minutes taking pictures after apply. Teague grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant, which, the extra you find out about him, makes plenty of sense. “I do not actually like to speak all day lengthy,” Teague says of his management type. “But when one thing’s mistaken, we’re not working towards exhausting sufficient, I’ll positively simply say it, straight up.”
Important and Teague grew tight on Baylor’s exhibition journey to Italy in 2019, a nine-day voyage on which the Bears handily beat 4 Italian groups, however largely frolicked. It was Teague’s first alternative to play in actual video games, after sitting out the primary yr following his switch from UNC Asheville. Teague, Important, Mitchell and Obim Okeke (now a graduate assistant for the group) have been inseparable all through. They’ve grown tight sufficient to confront and seek the advice of each other with full confidence and nil pretense. “MaCio’s most likely the closest [to me] on the group,” Important says. “He is additionally my therapist. That is what I say. “I’m just like the Hulk, you understand. I get uncontrolled and get actual mad. You bought that one individual that may calm you down and speak to you. MaCio’s that man.”
“Yeah, you understand, generally he is actually intense,” Teague says of Important (and, presumably, deadpanning). “I understand how to speak to Mark. I can calm him down in sure conditions. We simply get alongside, and plenty of it got here with belief. He is aware of I really care about him.”
“He is only a optimistic individual,” Important says of Teague. “I used to be at all times the muscle and he was the brains. He is a type of guys you gotta have in your group. He is gonna at all times push you, he’ll let you know what’s proper or mistaken, he is actual blunt, he is only a nice chief. , he is extra of a pacesetter than me. And I have been right here longer.”
The working joke at Baylor is that Important is the third-longest tenured individual in this system, behind Scott Drew and high assistant Jerome Tang. (Technically, that individual can be Director of Athletic Efficiency Charlie Melton.) He turned 24 final yr, already historical by school basketball’s requirements. Important grew up in a tough a part of Lake Charles, La., and dedicated to the Bears in September 2013, getting into his sophomore yr of highschool, two years earlier than he truly signed.
A bodily specimen as soon as labeled as “center faculty basketball’s most spectacular dunker,” Important wound up redshirting on arrival in Waco in 2016. Coming into his sophomore yr, Important had one thing of an awakening. “Even when I needed to go attempt to rating 20 factors,” he says, “that wasn’t going to win video games.” As a substitute, he made the Massive 12’s All Defensive group three years working.
“With Mark, it is the loyalty and his unselfishness. He is trying solely on the win column. It offers credibility to it,” says former Bears middle Freddie Gillespie, a captain on final season’s Bears group, which was 26–4 earlier than COVID-19 lower issues brief. “Irrespective of how upset he was, you knew it wasn’t, ‘Oh I do not such as you,’ or, ‘I would like the ball extra.’ It’s, ‘I actually wish to win. Take a look at the way in which I am enjoying.’ ”
In an era of transfers and early departures, Important by no means wavered from Baylor. He’s been round lengthy sufficient to understand the adjustments, large and small. And he’s fast to credit score Teague because the participant who raised the bar for everybody else, and altered the power within the apply facility.
Take it from Gillespie, the lone starter to graduate. Gillespie picked up basketball late, however blossomed at Division III Carleton, the place he caught the attention of Baylor’s workers. He transferred in 2017 as a walk-on, coaching relentlessly as he sat out a yr, working exhausting to catch up. When Butler, Mitchell and Teague arrived a yr later, transfers from completely different faculties all trying to find alternative, Baylor’s workers positioned Gillespie on a pedestal as the instance for others to comply with.
That did not final. Gillespie remembers Teague approaching him early of their time as teammates with a transparent message: “By the point I am finished, after this yr, you will not be the toughest employee on the group anymore.”
“That’s most likely true,” says Teague. “Our group chaplain at all times says I’ve good charisma. I used to be most likely laughing once I mentioned it.”
“I used to be severe,” he clarifies. “However I used to be laughing. And it was most likely whereas we have been within the fitness center collectively on the similar time.”
“If I used to be within the fitness center, he made some extent of attempting to be there extra typically than me, go tougher than me, that was simply in his nature,” says Gillespie, chuckling. “He was like, ‘I do not need individuals to say that about you anymore. I wanna be that man.’ I respect how clear he was about his intentions. He didn’t need anybody to outwork him. That was his mentality.”
Teague got here to Baylor searching for a much bigger platform, and with no pre-existing relationship with Drew or his workers past the preliminary recruitment. A local of Cincinnati, Teague was not extremely rated in highschool. He spent a yr on Montverde Academy’s postgrad group, and nonetheless had restricted curiosity from high-major packages. He landed at Asheville, the place he averaged 16.7 factors as a sophomore, shot 43.7% from three over two years and have become a sizzling commodity within the switch portal. Understanding how he operates, nothing about what he’s finished since has been shocking. “He is invested a lot, he has a lot pores and skin within the sport, he is put in so many hours,” Gillespie provides. “ he is not simply saying issues.”
“My voice carries plenty of weight. However [MaCio] got here in with the positivity, and in addition modified my perspective on plenty of issues,” Important says. “And we began profitable quite a bit. That is actually what occurred. I’ve been on groups that was very poisonous for one another, that cuss one another out, blame one another. This group would not try this, as a result of we modified the tradition.”
Revered as he’s by teammates and workers, Teague is raring to deflect among the reward onto Drew. “A variety of it has to do with the management up high,” he says. Baylor’s gamers describe their coach as a transparent communicator, who empowers his leaders to control the group dynamic. In addition they acknowledge that the Bears are higher off when he can truly give attention to teaching, not managing chemistry.
After spending the higher a part of a month quarantined in Indianapolis, the place choices exterior of basketball have been restricted and Join 4 has change into their sport of alternative, the Bears are conscious of their circumstances. Butler, Mitchell, Teague and Important will possible all be gone subsequent season. They usually might by no means expertise one other group that truly likes one another this a lot. “We positively understand that,” Teague admits. The hours they’ve left collectively are fleeting, whichever approach this breaks.
Baylor is 2 wins away from vindication, with Houston on faucet, and a possible assembly with Gonzaga that the complete sport has been hoping for. However the heavy lifting—redefining the perspective of a whole program, high to backside—was finished a very long time in the past.
“We do not actually care who eats,” says Important. “And that is why I believe plenty of different groups are out of this match.”
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