If it weren’t for somewhat of a coincidence, basketball senior Justin Baker might never have made the move out to Utah.
While recruiting another player at Santa Rosa Junior College, an assistant coach from UVU was impressed by the play of Baker as a freshman. The coach talked with Baker, mentioning that Dick Hunsaker was the head coach. When his father, himself a former collegiate basketball player, told him he was familiar with Coach Hunsaker and respected him as a coach, Baker made the choice to transfer.
That little visit provided UVU with one of its top performers over the last two seasons, and a major presence on the court this year.
Baker is the type of player that lives and breathes basketball, beginning when he was 5 years old. Off the court, he watches as much as he can, whether it is the NBA preseason or a college game. Despite being from northern California, Baker is a huge Lakers fan. Part of his off time is spent in the training room, lifting weights, exercising and preparing for his next game.
Two days before a game, it’s already all he can think about, to the point that he has trouble focusing on his classes. He constantly runs through his personal assignment, the team assignments and their overall game plan so he can execute when the time comes.
There is nothing Baker would rather be doing than playing basketball.
At the end of this year, Baker will graduate with a degree in Communications and an emphasis in Public Relations. When asked what career he would like, he simply responded that he wants to continue to play. While he may dream of playing in the Staples Center wearing purple and gold, Baker is willing to play for whoever would let him, as long as it is consistent.
With his senior year beginning, Baker, and the team as a whole, have a lot to prove after the trouble last season. While the team racked up an impressive 11-4 record at home, they only managed a single win in their away and neutral-site games.
When asked what the benefit of the home court was, Baker said, “We know the court like the back of our hands. We know the dimensions and layout behind the hoop. We’re used to the lighting. It’s the same court we practice on every day.”
Baker cited the biggest reason for last year’s troubles on the road was a lack of team unity. He explained that going into a hostile environment on a long road trip is rough.
“It’s you and your team versus everyone else,” he said, “It’s like you start the game already down 10 points.”
As a senior, Baker has the opportunity to take on a leadership role with the team and help pull them through some difficult road games this year. Seeing how the team failed to come together last year in those situations, he recognizes it is vital that the team works together as a team if they want to win this year.
The Wolverines face long road trips this year, competing against teams in Florida, Oregon, Georgia and Ohio, to name a few. The team will need Baker to put all his leadership skills to use if they are to play as well on the road as they do at home.
With his final collegiate season quickly approaching, Baker is ready to get onto the court again. Coincidence or not, his decision to transfer here has had a large impact on the team, one that will be hard to replace come 2011.