Drew, Scott. The Road to Joy: Leading with Faith, Playing with Purpose, Leaving a Legacy. Nashville, W. Publishing, 2022.
As a TV host and a professor, I’m asked to review books fairly regularly. But this one hit different, because this one detailed a journey that intersected my own and, en route, allowed me to relive some of the best years of my life. This time, however, from a radically different perspective.
Senior year of high school (2005), after I had decided to enroll at Baylor University that fall, my high school athletic trainer half-jokingly commented, “Don’t join a cult and don’t get yourself killed.” He was referring to, of course, Waco, Texas’ most infamous history — the Branch Davidians — and what was quickly becoming the city’s second most renowned claim to fame: the Baylor Basketball scandal.
As the 2017 documentary Disgraced recounts, Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy was murdered by his teammate. The investigation into the murder uncovers an atmosphere of deceit and cheating created by then head coach Dave Bliss. In an attempt to cover up his own egregious crimes, Bliss proceeds to meddle in the investigation, misleading investigators and defaming Dennehy. The aftermath of the scandal is devastating, with the NCAA all but officially levelling the Baylor men’s basketball program.
That’s the bleak abyss Scott Drew and his staff walked into in 2003. I remember those days well. My freshmen year at Baylor (2005–2006) was the year where Baylor was banned from non-conference play. I remember attending my first Baylor men’s basketball game and being shocked at how empty the arena was. Our women had just come off their first national title (first of three in the Kim Mulkey era) and the energy in the Ferrell Center between the two teams was stark. We were so proud of how hard the guys on the team battled, but I don’t know a single person in that arena who thought we’d ever play for a national championship. Except Scott Drew. And maybe his staff.
I wasn’t just a fan. I got to know Coach Drew during my years at Baylor as we both attended Highland Baptist Church and we were both “backrow Baptists,” that is, when Coach Drew wasn’t running around chasing kids and cleaning up vomit as a volunteer in the nursery. Yes, the head coach of a Big 12 basketball program often spent his Sundays watching and teaching children who had no idea who he was. The crazy thing? Drew was as enthusiastic playing with these little ones as he was on the sideline. One Sunday, I caught of glimpse of how joyful he was watching these toddlers and I remember thinking, “I think Baylor hired the right guy.”
The other time I remember thinking this was when my roommate Isaiah met Coach Drew for the first time. Isaiah was an international student and missionary’s kid. He had been to a few games, but didn’t love sports and didn’t follow it closely. I was helping setup for our church’s college service following, so I walked in a bit late, just in time for the great Baptist tradition of greeting one another.
I saw Coach Drew chatting with Isaiah and after a quick hello, we returned to our seats. “You got to meet Coach Drew!” I excitedly exclaimed to my roommate, to which he replied, “Who?” “Coach Drew,” I said, motioning to where Drew and his family were sitting. “No, his name is Scott, not Drew,” Isaiah said, before adding, “Nice guy!” My roommate had no idea who Coach Drew was and and the good coach was not about to tell him either; it didn’t bother him one bit.
I have a lot of respect for what Coach Drew has done on the court for Baylor. But I have even more respect for the culture that he has built in Baylor Athletics and, especially, with our men’s basketball team. I was fortunate enough to witness that when there were no cameras around — just Coach Drew and a toddler or Coach Drew and a Baylor student who had no idea who he was.
That is the Scott Drew you meet in his book The Road to Joy. He takes you on a behind-the-scenes journey through what has widely been labeled “the greatest rebuild in college history.” Drew’s down-to-earth, authentic self permeates the pages. It is evident the joy he speaks so often of is rooted in his DNA, as he honestly details his mindset amid the discouragement, struggle, and long stretches of loss after loss.
I remember watching the confetti fall after we beat Gonzaga for the national championship in 2021 and thinking that this remarkable journey was like a Disney movie — the perpetual underdogs defeat the perpetual favorites in a massive upset. But reading Drew’s book set the entire journey back into reality. It was just that — a journey. It has lots of ups and lots of downs and lots of seeming wrong turns. Drew covers them all — from big wins to heartbreaking losses to the recruiting trails to NCAA investigations and sanctions.
Reading through Drew’s words, I was transported back to campus and reliving those moments. I again felt the anxiety of that five overtime win over Texas A&M and the anticipation-turned-ecstasy of hearing CBS Sports’ Greg Gumbel announce Baylor as the last team in the 2008 NCAA Tournament — making the tourney just five short years after Drew took over the most decimated and scandal-ridden program in recent history.
The way the book closes is wholly consistent with how Scott Drew has lived his life. He lists the names of every single coach, player, university president, athletic director, sport administrator, and sports information director that was at any time a part of the program. It reminded me of a story that former assistant coach Jerome Tang shared upon being named head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats:
“When Coach [Drew] found out I got the job, he came over that night. He brought with him a bottle of wine that someone had given him in 2003 when he took the job at Baylor and they told him, ‘I want you to drink this when you want to celebrate something that’s really, really great.’
Well, we won an NIT championship, we went to Sweet Sixteens, went to two Elite Eights, went to a Final Four and a national championship, then won the Big 12 again and that bottle was still closed. But when I got this job he came over with his wife to open that with me.”
I set out thinking that The Road to Joy would be a must-read for any Baylor fan and, perhaps, for any basketball fan. But it’s actually a heartfelt and impactful must-read for anyone. The book is much less about basketball and much more about life’s journey and how we find joy — not mere happiness, but true joy — amid the valleys of the journey. As Drew so astutely articulates in the book, we don’t truly experience joy at the mountaintop, if we don’t have it in the valley.
Samuel Chen is a television host and award-winning political scientist, analyst, and strategist. He is the author of two books, including Thirteen Minutes: Winning, Losing, and Living as Taught by the 2016 Election. Chen is a proud alumnus of Baylor University and remains involved with his alma mater. You can follow him on all social media platforms @SamuelChenTV.