Matt Sayman played basketball for Baylor from 2000-2004. He came to Baylor to play for Dave Bliss. He was hoping he would be playing for conference championships and deep NCAA runs. But things didn't go as planned. The summer of 2003 changed the trajectory of the program. Patrick Dennehy was murdered by a teammate that summer. What followed after was program chaos- NCAA violations; the coaching staff fired; players transferring left and right- two of those players became All-Americans for other programs (Lawrence Roberts at Mississippi State and John Lucas III at Oklahoma State).
I caught up with Matt Sayman to talk about his upcoming book called The Leftovers which details his college experience. It should be a must read for all Baylor basketball fans and college basketball fans in general. Right after our conversation, Matt was interviewed by David Smoak of ESPN 1660 in Waco. The interview can be listened to here
Bearstruth: Matt- I followed your career closely. Your freshman year you had a magical moment beating a top 10 team- Kansas in Waco on Big Monday. Describe that night for us.
Sayman: The night was one of my greatest memories in my basketball career. Wendell Greenleaf, Demarcus Minor and Terry Black all had fantastic games. I remember Coach Bliss putting me in at the end of the 1st half. The worst thing that could happen was for me to be left wide open as soon as I got in the game. You want to have a couple of possessions to get the feel for the game. But I was so wide open from three point range, I had to let it go. It went in. I got another shot attempt shortly after and airballed it. So that was it for me until late in the game. Bliss inserted me to shoot free throws when Kansas had to foul. I knocked down 3 of 4 from the line and we held on for the 85-77 win.
To beat a team as talented as Kansas and to watch the Baylor students rush the court after the game was a feeling that is hard to describe.
Bearstruth: I'm sure that whet your appetite for what was possible. Many casual observers don't understand how much talent Baylor basketball was stockpiling during your first three years. Had that tragedy not occurred, your 2003-04 team could have been something special. Talk about the optimism of the program heading into that summer.
Sayman: That's right. I loved playing for Coach Bliss. He was everything I could have wanted in a basketball coach. Early on, he told us, "I'm not here to be your friend. I'm your basketball coach and I want to see you get better as basketball players." He and Doug Ash (top assistant) were old school in their approach to the game. You look at the roster we had heading into the Fall of 2003 and it was impressive.
We had Lawrence Roberts (SEC player of the year after he transferred) who averaged 15 pts/10 reb as a sophomore; John Lucas (led OSU to a Final 4) who averaged 13 pts/4 asst as a soph; Kenny Taylor- a sharpshooter who averaged 11 pts. We had Terrance Thomas, RT Guinn (10 pts/ 6 reb the year before); Harvey Thomas- who was a top 25 player coming out of high school. And then we had Patrick Dennehy- who many felt was a pro player. The roster was loaded with talent and we were expecting big things the next year.
Bearstruth: And then it all comes crashing down with the murder and cover-up that ensued. Talk about how difficult that summer was for you.
Sayman: It is hard to put into words. I had lived a charmed life prior to Dennehy's death. I had never experienced tragedy close to me. I remember in 4th grade setting three goals:
1. Make my Freshman A-team
2. Play varsity as a sophomore
3. Play Division 1 basketball
All of those goals had come true. Playing varsity as a sophomore was remarkable because I was only 5-3 at the time but I had a size 13 shoe. But when Patrick died, it was a confidence shaking event.
Bearstruth: I'm sure the temptation to transfer was there. Did you entertain other options?
Sayman: My options were limited. I did a lot of things that didn't show up in the stat sheet. I had also seen guys that transferred and only had one year after the transfer and how difficult it was for them to adjust to a new program. I thought my best option was to stick it out with the other leftovers- Herring, Terrance Thomas, Harvey Thomas, Guinn, Swanson and Kidd.
Bearstruth: Many Baylor fans have good memories of that team because you guys played so hard and upset some teams that no one thought you would beat. I remember you sweeping Texas A&M that year and also beating Iowa State. And then taking some really good teams to the wire- OSU at home and OU on the road (ended up losing 46-41). I remember listening on the radio to that game at Texas A&M where you won 67-61 in OT and you had a terrific game- 15 pts (5-6 shooting); 5 rebounds; 6 assists. Describe the highs and lows of that year.
Sayman: The low was losing to UTSA on our home court. Our fans didn't not like our effort that day. Coach Drew subbed us out and put in 5 walk-ons (The Hit Squad). The walk-ons actually scored a few buckets before running out of steam. I remember our fans booing us. That was the low point. I wanted to quit after that game. But I decided to stick it out and I am so glad I did. I use this as a coaching point with my kids all the time. By the end of the season fans cheered us because we played so hard and were so competitive against overwhelming odds.
The high point was the win at A&M. Terrance Thomas was the leader of the team. He made a decision that he was "All-In" and we all just started to follow his lead. He had close to a triple-double in that game (12/8/8). After the game, we grabbed a bunch of sodas and started shaking them up and let them spray all over the locker room and wrote #3 on the board (for our 3rd conference win).
Bearstruth: What is it like watching this Baylor program now, knowing that the foundation was built by the character of the Leftovers?
Sayman: Coach Drew and his staff work so hard and they are so full of positive energy. I remember going to a game in Dallas when Baylor played Gonzaga and thinking this program is now rolling out NBA players. Mark Wible was the chaplain for us when I played and still is. He saw me and gave me a big hug and said, "you were one of the ones that made this possible." That meant a lot to me. Knowing how easy it would have been to quit. So I take a lot of pride in what Baylor has accomplished in the last few years.
Bearstruth: That's great stuff. Tell us what you are doing now?
Sayman: I'm coaching basketball at McKinney High School- having a blast. I love the game, but I don't worship it now like I once did. I've grown and matured the last 7 years- I have a great family (wife and two kids). I have faith in Christ and just try to apply the lessons that I learned at Baylor to my kids that God has given me stewardship over.
Bearstruth: Matt- thanks a ton for taking time to do this. I can't wait to read your book.
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