Baylor coach Scott Drew says his Bears seem to play better when senior Ish Wainright is on the court.
The numbers don’t lie. The ninth-ranked Bears tied program highs with 25 regular-season wins, 12 Big 12 victories and a second-place league finish this season as Wainright started every game so far.
“People look up to him, they feel confident and comfortable playing with him,” Drew said Wednesday. “He seems to always have the right word to say to them. All the dirty things and all the things you need to win, he does.”
Wainright, a former Raytown South star who attended Montrose Christian in Maryland before signing with the Bears in 2013, is only their sixth-leading scorer at 5.5 points per game, but he ranks third on the team in rebounding and second in assists.
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He also leads Baylor with 56 steals, more than twice as many as his next-closest teammate. That landed Wainright on the coaches’ All-Big 12 defensive team.
As Baylor’s only senior, Wainright will become the first Bears men’s basketball player to appear in four NCAA Tournaments. Before its current streak of three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, Baylor had never qualified for back-to-back NCAA fields.
“That’s something special,” Wainright said of the potential achievement … and he applied the same sentiment about playing his final Big 12 Tournament in front of his family and friends. The third-seeded Bears (25-6) open with a Thursday night quarterfinal against No. 6 seed Kansas State (19-12) around 8:30 p.m. at the Sprint Center.
“They’re fired up,” he said. “You’re going to hear them.
“I’m trying not to think about as being my last trip here. … It is going to be emotional. You’ll see a few tears … in a good way.”
Another family connection for Wainright is grandfather Maurice King, who played with Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas in the 1950s and became the first black player to start for the Jayhawks in a basketball game.
Wainright became aware of King’s basketball achievements after King died in 2007. An uncle, Maurice King III, told him “little stories here and there.”
Learning about his grandfather inspired Wainright to attach his name to the back of his jersey this season. He debuted the “King-Wainright” nameplate in the Bears’ game at KU on Feb. 1.
It will remain on the back of his jersey for the postseason.
“Always,” Wainright said. “I admire what he did with the game.”
Wainright is also a fan of the way this Bears team has come together.
“The passion that we’ve been playing with,” he said. “I told Coach that this is probably the best team I’ve been on my four years … because of our bond. … We just play with a chip on our shoulder and we still have stuff to prove.”