Wichita State may not be entering this year’s tournament with a flawless 34-0 record and as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest bracket, but Shockers’ head coach Gregg Marshall still put together another strong winning recipe this season.
The Shockers finished out the regular season 28-4 overall and atop the Missouri Valley Conference with a 17-1 record. The Shockers lost in the MVC semifinals to Illinois State, but still nabbed a selection committee bid to the Big Dance as the No. 7 seed in the Midwest region. Not only did Wichita State “shock” the nation with their performance last year, but also one of their starting five turned heads as well.
He wears the No. 31 jersey, his name is Ron Baker and here’s what you need to know:
1. Baker Is a High School State Basketball Champion
Baker attended Scott Community High School in Scott City, Kansas. He was a three sport athlete – football quarterback, basketball forward and baseball player. During his career, Baker helped the Beavers to a 58-11 three-year record, he amassed 1,103 career points and as a senior, Baker helped lead the Beavers to a 25-1 record and a state championship.
As a senior, Baker averaged 20.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.6 steals, 3 assists and 2 blocks. He also scored the winning basket with a put-back at the buzzer in the 3A title game against Minneapolis High School. Baker finished that game with 26 points, nine rebounds and made 8-of-9 from the line. And shortly after claiming the state title, which was a first in school history, Baker was named 3A First-Team All-State.
Baker’s senior year marked the first of what became a three-peat accomplishment for the Beavers’ program as they went on to win state in 2012 and 2013.
2. Baker Is a Walk-On
Despite his senior year success and childhood dreams of playing for the Kansas Jayhawks, his recruiting process in high school didn’t take the turn to bring that dream to fruition.
In fact, Baker wasn’t even ranked by any scouting site. And he wasn’t seriously recruited by any major Division I basketball program. Instead, Baker made schools visits to various Division II programs and drew strong interest from just two smaller Division I schools – Arkansas-Little Rock and South Dakota State.
ESPN.com writer Eamonn Brennan reported:
ESPN’s RecruitingNation maintains detailed scouting reports on hundreds of the best high school basketball players in the country…Ron Baker’s profile read as follows:
“Will walk-on at Wichita State in 2011-12 and spend a redshirt year. Expected to be on scholarship starting in 2012-13.”
And that was it. Next to Baker’s name was “NR,” which stands for “Not Ranked.” The same abbreviation sits next to secondary lists for “position,” “regional” and “state.” Baker — who requested a redshirt year when he committed, as a walk-on, to Wichita State in April 2011 — couldn’t have been more off the recruiting radar.
After convincing Shockers Head Coach Gregg Marshall to let him redshirt his freshman year in order to get better acclimated with college basketball, Baker made his debut in the 2012-13 season and hasn’t looked back since – outside of setbacks that year due to a fractured foot.
His freshman year, he helped the Shockers make an unexpected Final Four run in the tournament. Last year he helped lead the way to a 35-1 record. And this year, as a junior, Baker is averaging 15.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Oh, and of course, hopes of another tourney run is on the horizon.
3. Baker Is an Oscar Robertson Trophy Semifinalist
The Oscar Robertson Trophy, which is awarded annually, has been given out since 1959 and is considered to be the oldest of its kind. The trophy is given to outstanding collegiate men’s basketball players by the United States Basketball Writers Association – USBWA.
A week after the NCAA tournament champion is crowned, the Devon Energy College Basketball Awards ceremony, which will also include the Henry Iba Coach of the Year Award and the Integris Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award, will be held at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
This year, Baker will be in attendance for the ceremony on April 14. He joins the 13 other finalists including Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. It’s steep competition with seven different conferences being represented and two finalists, Wiltjer and Russell, have already been recognized as Oscar Robertson National Players of the Week this season.
If Baker wins the award he will join a long list of notable players such as Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Bill Walton, Larry Bird and last year’s recipient, Doug McDermott.
4. Baker Bypassed The 2014 NBA Draft to Return to Wichita State
The 2013-14 season, Wichita State reached a milestone many teams only dream of – a perfect regular season and conference tournament performance heading into the NCAA tournament. Baker was a major component to the Shockers success. He averaged 13.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game, and shot 45.6 percent from the field, 38 percent from beyond the arc and 84.2 percent from the charity stripe.
And despite the success and attention, Baker, who was projected by multiple NBA executives as a second-round 2014 draft pick, the 6-foot-3 forward decided to forego the draft and return to the Shockers for his junior year.
While WSU isn’t on another path to perfection, Baker’s name is still being tossed around in 2015 NBA Draft talk. According to DraftExpress, those discussions are – like last year – about him being a second-round pick. Baker is ranked No. 11 among NCAA juniors and No. 44 overall.
5. Baker Had Dinner With Kirstie Alley
Following his freshman season when WSU literally “shocked” the nation with their Final Four run, Baker posted a picture of him having dinner with Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Kirstie Alley.
Alley, who is known for her role in Cheers and as a weight loss spokesperson, is a Wichita, Kansas native and a fan of the Shockers. The 64-year-old actress not only had dinner with Baker and the team, but also made an appearance at a game and visited the locker room for a post game speech earlier in the season, according to the school’s athletic website.