Baylor basketball players and Dave Bliss.
Photo by Getty Images (left), Brian Bahr/Allsport/Getty Images (center), Photo by Baylor University/Getty Images (right)

Baylor Basketball Changed Forever After a Player Murdered His Teammate

More than two decades ago, Baylor basketball changed forever when a murder shocked the college basketball world.

One of the biggest stories in college basketball last season surrounded former Alabama star and 2023 NBA Draft second-overall pick Brandon Miller. Former Alabama forward Darius Miles, along with his friend Michael Davis, were charged in the murder of Jamea Jonae Harris. Police believe that Miller brought the gun to the scene of the crime. However, Miller wasn't charged with any crime, wasn't punished by the team and continued to play.

This isn't the first time it has been alleged that a college basketball player was involved in a murder. One of the biggest scandals in the history of college basketball took place at Baylor back in 2003. 

The Murder That Changed Baylor Basketball

homas Crum, a former coach of Patrick James Dennehy, touches the urn containing Dennehy's ashes following memorial services for Dennehy

Photo by Damon Winter - Pool/Dallas Morning News/Getty Images

The most notorious incident of a college basketball player being involved in a murder dates back to June 2003. Patrick Dennehy, a forward who played at New Mexico State before transferring to Baylor University for the 2002-03 season, was killed by Baylor teammate Carlton Dotson. The news shocked the college basketball community and is brought up whenever an incident involving a college basketball player and a gun occurs.

By all accounts, Dennehy and Dotson were friends. Both were transfers from other schools. During the summer of 2003, the two voiced their concern for their own safety. They claimed they received threatening phone calls by other teammates. In response, they both bought guns two pistols and a rifle. They went to a farm north of Waco, Texas, for target practice. When they didn't attend a party they both said they were going to, people started to get concerned something was wrong. People were even more concerned when it was revealed that Dennehy's family hadn't heard from him. The last time anyone had heard from Dennehy was June 14, and he was reported missing five days later.

On June 25, Dennehy's vehicle, a Chevrolet Tahoe, was found in a shopping mall parking lot in Virginia Beach, Va. The license plates had been removed. Five days later, an unsealed affidavit seeking a search warrant for Dennehy's computer revealed that an informant told police that Dotson had said he had shot and killed Dennehy during an argument on the farm north of Waco. On July 21, Dotson was taken into custody after he called police saying he was hearing voices. Dotson then told police where he could find Dennehy's body. On July 25, a very decomposed body was found in a gravel pit near Waco. Medical examiners identified the body as Dennehy's.

A photo from Patrick Dennehy's memorial services shows pictures of him.

An urn containing Patrick James Dennehy's ashes, photos and flowers were the centerpiece at a memorial services for Dennehy in August 2003. (Photo by Damon Winter - Pool/Dallas Morning News/Getty Images)

Dotson told FBI agents that he killed Dennehy in self-defense, after Dennehy pointed a gun at him and the gun jammed. But the autopsy showed the self-defense claim could not be supported, as Dennehy was shot twice, once toward the back of the head and once above the right ear. Two years later, Dotson pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The news of Dennehy's murder was just the beginning of a scandalous summer for the Baylor University basketball program. There were allegations that Dennehy didn't have an athletic scholarship with the program and, therefore, shouldn't have been with the team during the 2002-03 season. It was found that Baylor head coach Dave Bliss had paid Dennehy's tuition and another teammate's tuition as well. When questioned, Bliss claimed Dennehy had paid his own tuition by being a drug dealer. It was not the first lie he would tell.

After Dennehy's death was ruled a murder, Bliss told his players to lie to investigators. Assistant coach Abar Rouse secretly taped Bliss instructing his players to fabricate a story about Dennehy being a drug dealer. The tapes also showed that Bliss knew Dennehy had been threatened by two of their teammates but covered it up. Bliss was involved in NCAA rules violations including unreported failed drug tests among the team and making players' tuition payments.

Baylor was left in shambles. Bliss resigned, and the team was placed on a 10-year probation. Dotson is currently being held in the John B. Connally Unit, a maximum-security prison, south of the city of Kenedy, Texas. He was denied parole in February 2022. 

A documentary on the scandal called "Disgraced" was released in 2017. In the documentary, Bliss continued to perpetuate the lie that Dennehy was dealing drugs despite police and friends and family of Dennehy all disputing that claim.

Bliss's career was all but over, but he did receive a head coaching gig at Southwestern Christian University, an NAIA school in Oklahoma, where he was at from 2015-17. He resigned four days after the documentary on Showtime was released. He most recently coached Calvary Chapel Christian School in Las Vegas during the 2017-18 season.

Baylor basketball eventually rebounded from the scandal under current head coach Scott Drew. The Bears won the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, finishing 28-2. They made the tournament the last two seasons and have 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in Drew's 20 seasons in Waco.

Still, this scandal will always cast a dark cloud over Baylor.

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