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Jeff Eisenberg

Elite Eight practice court inspires Baylor's Final Four dreams

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Each time Baylor players take part in pick-up games this summer, they can't help but be reminded of both their past accomplishments and future goals.

As a result of a rainstorm that severely damaged the court at school's practice facility in late June, Baylor officials have rented the floor the Bears played on last March during the South Regional at Houston's Reliant Stadium. And, of course, they hope to return to that very same venue again next spring when Houston hosts the Final Four.

Whereas other schools might have shied away from early chatter about a hometown Final Four, Baylor is embracing the idea of playing for a national championship a few hours from its campus. Bears coach Scott Drew told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that his team hopes to emulate the runs that Michigan State and Butler made the past two years and play in front of a pro-Baylor crowd like the one that filled Reliant Stadium for last March's Elite Eight shodown with Duke.

"The upperclassmen are talking about it with the new guys,'' Drew said. "It was a great experience. Most of the recruits we have saw that game. They saw the great turnout. And now to have a Final Four in your state -- this is a dream for an athlete.''

The departure of guard Tweety Carter and big men Ekpe Udoh and Josh Lomers leave Baylor with some holes to fill heading into next season, but the Bears have the talent to make their goals realistic.

High-scoring senior LaceDarius Dunn is a preseason All-American candidate at shooting guard. Six-foot-11 power forward Perry Jones has been touted as one of the nation's best incoming freshman. And junior forward Quincy Acy will be expected to shoulder more of the scoring load this year.

It won't be easy for Baylor to replace Carter's leadership or Udoh's defensive presence, but Michigan State and Butler were once long shots to play in a Final Four in front of their home fans.

Maybe Baylor can be the third.

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