No, Baylor ain't withering under Nicki Collen

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The long-awaited Washington Post article on former Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey dropped on Saturday. Despite the entire women's basketball community building anticipation that the article would contain some new, salacious revelations about the current LSU coach, it turned out to just be a really well-written profile from Kent Babb. Babb detailed alleged homophobic incidents from Mulkey's time at Baylor, but those allegations were already publicly available. Anyone hoping for some new dirt on Mulkey was left wondering what all the hype had been about.

I'm not here to talk about Kim Mulkey, though. I'm here to talk about a statement in the article that I took umbrage with.

When talking about Mulkey leaving Baylor, Babb described the school as "no longer among the sport’s upper tier, another structure abandoned and left to wither."

And look, I get where he's coming from. The first half of that sentence is even true—Baylor's not a perennial top five team like it was under Mulkey. But it's the latter half that really irks me and irked Baylor fans. Because maybe, if we're looking at this in a Mulkey-centric lense, she left Baylor to wither, but her departure from the Bears ain't the same as her departure from Louisiana Tech, which she left in 2000 after, Babb describes, she wasn't offered the contract she wanted to move from associate head coach to head coach for the Lady Techsters.

Because here's the thing with Baylor: Mulkey might have abandoned Waco, but Waco hasn't abandoned Baylor women's basketball. This program's not withering. In fact, Nicki Collen has the Bears set up to thrive in the new-look Big 12.

We don't even need to look far for evidence of how Baylor's still a really good program. On Saturday, the Bears played in the Sweet 16 and came up just shy of upsetting No. 1 seed USC.


I didn't go to Baylor. Heck, I've never even been on the campus there—the closest I've gotten is being stuck in I-35 traffic over by McLane Stadium, which seems to happen every time I drove from Denton down to Austin or San Antonio.

But I do know a number of people who went or have gone to Baylor, and not a single one of them has expressed disappointment in the current direction of Baylor women's basketball. I'm not saying they're happy that Mulkey's in Baton Rouge now—I don't want to speak for other people. I'm just saying that I don't hear them pining for their loss.

Of course, a big part of that was that the Baylor administration recognized when Mulkey left that they needed to make a huge splash to replace the star coach. They did just that, dipping their toes into the WNBA coaching ranks to grab Nicki Collen, who was then the head coach for the Atlanta Dream.


Kim Mulkey didn't read the Washington Post article, in fact it hadn't even come out when she first commented on it. Nicki Collen didn't either, the Bears head coach said on Saturday after the team's loss to USC.

But these two things are not the same.

Because the part of the article that offended Collen, the comment about Baylor, doesn't really need to be read in context. It was a pretty clear statement about where Baylor stands in the sport.

Look, I mentioned above that Babb's piece was good, at least as far as the thoroughness with which it covers Mulkey's career and the craft of it, but it also has a foundational issue, which is that it seems to misunderstand women's basketball. Between the Baylor comment and an aside about Angel Reese, NIL, and WNBA salaries, it's a reminder that women's basketball remains a space that people coming in from the outside don't seem to fully grasp. Maybe that's because the infrastructure isn't yet in place to ensure easy access to knowledge of the sport. Maybe it's because outsiders still bring their unconscious bias into things. Maybe, with the NIL comments, which are made every day on Twitter by people who don't seem to grasp that WNBA players can still get paid by companies just like they were in college, it's ignorance. I don't know. But comments like the Baylor one feel emblematic of these issues. 


Baylor came up four points shy of sending No. 1-seed USC to overtime and five shy of an upset victory and a trip to the Elite Eight. The team might have lost more games than fans were used to seeing under Mulkey, but the team still finished with 26 wins. They had 28 in Mulkey's final season in Waco.

There's been dip, but there isn't that much of one, especially when you consider that Collen came in and radically changed how this program plays basketball and it was her first dip back into the college ranks in nearly 10 years. It's hard to modernize something overnight, but Baylor won the same amount of games in her first year that it won in Mulkey's final season.

You could point to the 2022-23 season as evidence that Baylor had fallen from the elites, but to do so is to misunderstand that season. Which, hey, it's easy for an outsider, for someone who isn't doing the day-to-day work in the sport, to just see that Baylor lost 13 games, its most since Sonja Hogg's last season, and to think wow, Mulkey was holding that program together.

It's not the real story though.

Collen brought in two key transfers to help a team that had just seen its best player graduate. One of those players, Aijha Blackwell, dealt with injuries all year and was limited in her effectiveness. The other, Dree Edwards, never saw the floor because of issues getting a transfer waiver from Kentucky.

Based on this year's improvement—both in terms of win/loss and in terms of how the team looks when you bring in advanced stats, where it improved from a 10.6 net rating to a 19.8 net rating—that season looks like a blip on the radar for the Collen era.

So yeah, maybe Baylor's not winning titles right now. Maybe the Bears are losing more games than they did under Mulkey. But this program hasn't been left to wither. The Bears have a bright future under Nicki Collen and I think the majority of Baylor fans would agree with that.

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