The no. 4-ranked Wichita State men’s basketball program has picked up where they left off in 2013 and expanded upon their achievements this year. The success of its last two seasons is rarely accomplished by national powerhouse programs, and it is almost unheard-of for mid-majors.
Although the level of the team’s experience, the aptitude of coach Gregg Marshall and the fans of Shocker nation all contribute to the success WSU has seen, there is one player who has meant more to his team than any other. He isn’t the team’s leading scorer or leading rebounder. He isn’t an accomplished upperclassman or a highly-touted freshman.
The Shockers’ sophomore guard Ron Baker has been an integral component to Wichita State’s recent accomplishments since he first stepped in Charles Koch Arena. This season, he averages 13 points per contest, shoots better than 85 percent from the free throw line and dishes assists at the second highest rate on the team (3.2 APG).
In his first official game as a redshirt freshman, Baker scored 18 points. He shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range that game and was the leading scorer on a team loaded with experienced talent. Marshall knew then that he had a special player, but what he didn’t know was how important Baker was going to be to the team.
The first game WSU lost in the 2012-13 season came at the hands of Tennessee on December 12. Baker scored just six points in 29 minutes of play. Although WSU held four of the five starting Volunteers under double-digit points, it lost its unblemished record (9-1).
Within a week of the disappointing loss, the Shockers also lost Baker to a stress fracture in his left foot. Without him, Baker’s squad lost five games in the Missouri Valley Conference schedule — including a sweep by the hands of the University of Evansville. His solid and diverse skillset was surely missed by his coach and teammates. Marshall noted many times last year in losses and wins that WSU had to play without one of its better players.
In the MVC tournament last year, Marshall attributed part of his team’s success to the return of Baker. Although the Shockers lost in the championship game to Doug McDermott and Creighton, Baker’s presence helped lift his team to the Final Four.
Baker may not be the most explosive athlete nor the most gifted scorer, but he has the intangibles that exist in many great basketball players. He is hardworking and a clutch performer. Baker doesn’t fill up the stat sheet every night, but even when he isn’t scoring, he is able to contribute in a myriad of ways. When he plays well, the Shockers appear to be indefensible.
This Wichita State team boasts at least two (maybe more) NBA prospects — none of which are Baker. Make no mistake, however — he is an essential piece if his team hopes to stay undefeated or win a national championship.