Saved in Jerome Tang’s phone calendar is the date of Scott Drew’s wedding anniversary, but the bookmarked date isn’t the day that Drew and his wife Kelly Drew were married. Instead, Tang has saved the anniversary a week before Scott and Kelly were married so he is able to remind Scott to purchase a gift for his wife.
For 19 years Tang was an assistant basketball coach for Drew at Baylor. The two took over a program in shambles in 2003 after Patrick Dennehy was shot and killed by one of his Baylor teammates, Carlton Dotson. Paling in comparison to the severity of a homicide, Baylor was also facing a depleted roster and NCAA violations.
Serving as Drew’s “right arm” Tang and the Bears’ head coach were able to turn Baylor – historically one of the worst college basketball programs – into, arguably, the nation’s premier program over the last five years, which includes a national championship at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season.
“To be able to have a championship together,” Drew said. “Was quite memorable and something we’ll both cherish forever.”
The triumphs that Drew has had at Baylor have been declared “the greatest rebuild in college basketball history.”
As Baylor found more achievement in recent seasons, Tang’s name began to be considered for head coaching vacancies around the country, but the 56-year-old wasn’t hired for any head coaching jobs until Kansas State hired him in the spring of 2022 after the resignation of former head coach Bruce Weber.
Tang, a man with a strong connection to his faith, believed God was affording the head coaching opportunities he craved because a bigger, better opening would be presented to him. Kansas State became that for the first-year Wildcats head coach. Yet, leaving Baylor wasn’t easy for Tang.
“When he felt like God led him somewhere, he went. He’s been more than ready for a long time,” Drew said. “He just didn’t have the calling to go. He’s going to do a great job at K-State, I know no one’s going to cheer louder or harder for him than I will, except when we play.
“Coach Tang and I were together for 19 years, so that’s like raising a child then going to college. I mean, putting a lot of time together.”
While at Baylor, Tang and Drew became “brothers.” Drew’s staff at Baylor has become known for having fun in the office. Coaches prank each other to keep things loose and to provide laughter. But Drew’s commitment to family contributed to Tang finding it hard to leave Waco, Texas.
“At Baylor University, I worked for the best guy in America,” Tang said. “I mean my man brought in marriage counselors to help us all become better husbands. And he’d bring in parenting experts to help us be better fathers. So, I had a great quality of life, right?”
It’s hard to find a more taxing career than a college basketball coach. The work-life balance between coaching, recruiting, and mentoring players often gets in the way of coaches’ own families. But not at Baylor.
“If I needed to watch my son play a game or go do something with my wife at any time,” Tang said of his time at Baylor. “I could go do that. He allowed me to grow as a coach and do everything I wanted to do. So, I had a great quality of life there, so it was real easy to stay there.”
While Tang went through the hiring process at Kansas State, he communicated regularly with Drew, who serves as more than a mentor to the now Wildcat head coach. Drew said that Tang “prayed” about the process when the Kansas State job became available and he rose to the top as a candidate on athletic director Gene Taylor’s wish list.
While in the midst of Tang’s interview with Taylor for the head coaching position, an awkward moment occurred. Taylor was trying to communicate something to one of his staffers who also attended the interview – but he couldn’t find an effective way to translate the message clearly. Eventually, Taylor and the staffer stepped out of the room, leaving Tang alone with his thoughts for a few minutes. When Taylor returned, he communicated that he wanted Tang to serve as Kansas State’s next head basketball coach. Since the interview, the two have built a strong working, and personal, relationship. Tang described Taylor as a “down-to-earth dude.”
During moments where Drew shared advice to Tang about the possibility of leaving Baylor for the head coaching opportunity at Kansas State, Drew shared the importance of having a strong working relationship with the university’s administration, calling it the “first key to success.” Tang found a comfortable relationship with Kansas State’s administration.
“I felt wanted,” he said. “And not just by what was said, but by the actions [of people at Kansas State].”
Making people feel wanted is part of what makes Tang a successful basketball coach. When players walk into the gym for practice or an individual workout, they’re greeted by Tang with a pat on the chest and a hug.
is a junior guard at Baylor and was recruited to play for Baylor by Tang. The two have a “good” rapport together, which is layered in Tang helping Cryer build his faith – something that Cryer is still working on despite Tang now being Kansas State’s head coach.
“He brings a lot of fun because you can come into the gym feeling down or something else threw your day off,” Cryer said. “But when he sees you, he’s going to come up to and pat your chest and give you a hug, say ‘Let’s go.’ He just brings a different vibe to the gym, so it’s kind of impossible to mope around when he’s in there.
“I do think it’s unique. I mean, you don’t really see it from a lot of coaches, honestly. Some coaches are super serious and I feel like we preach the culture J.O.Y. (Jesus, Others, Yourself) and Coach Tang and Coach Drew, all of them bought into that. It was they way they lived their lives. It wasn’t fake.”
“I think God gives us all our own personalities,” Drew said. “Coach Tang is just energetic, passionate. You can fake something one or two days, but when you’re around kids 365 days of the year, your true personality comes out, and Coach Tang is just one of those guys that really embraces every day, and does it in a way that usually there’s a lot of energy and passion involved.”
Nae’Qwan Tomlin comes to Kansas State after playing the last three seasons at Chipola College (2020-22) and Monroe Community College (2019-20), and he didn’t start playing organized, team basketball until he enrolled at Monroe in 2019 – Tomlin grew up in Harlem, New York, and played on famous outdoor courts with friends while growing up. Over the last two seasons, Tomlin averaged 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in 39 starts. He was one of the first Wildcats that Tang recruited to join his first Kansas State team, a roster that returns just two players from last season.
“It’s the best relationship I’ve had with a coach,” Tomlin said of his relationship with Tang. “He respects, believes in me so much and that was one of the main reasons why I came here. Me being a JUCO transfer, they are recruiting other guys who played at other colleges and stuff like that, but he expects so much from me. It was a no-brainer for me to come here.”
Tang felt the same way about Kansas State and heralded the advice of Drew to not leave Baylor for another assistant coaching job. Drew wants to make being an assistant coach at Baylor the best place to be an assistant coach in the country – and that’s why it was so hard for Tang to leave Waco. But the pull of K-State was too strong, and the time was right for both “brothers” to be head coaches in the Big 12.
“To get the opportunity to leave for a place where you can win a national championship, in the best conference in America,” Tang said. “You can’t turn that down.”