Hometown hero Ron Baker continues Hollywood story in L.A.

By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer

LOS ANGELES -- To be honest, Wichita State guard Ron Baker probably fits better in California than Kansas. He's got the shaggy blond hair, the laid-back personality -- perfect for the West Coast.

“I told him he should be a Hollister model, a beach boy,” guard Fred Van Vleet said. “He fits in right here out in L.A.”

Don't tell Baker that, though.

“I'm a country kid, so there's no way I'd survive out here,” Baker said. “I'd spend my money way too fast. Too many egos in Hollywood for me to handle.”

Given that his hometown is having Ron Baker Day on Thursday, it's hard to imagine Baker getting too far from Scott City, Kan.

Wait, what? You read that right -- the town of Scott City is dedicating Thursday, March 27, 2013, to Ron Baker.

“It's just a celebration of . . . me, I guess,” Baker said, completely humble (seriously) about the entire situation.

This doesn't really come as much of a surprise to his teammates, though, who observe that Baker is sort of a hometown hero around the campus and the city.

“In Wichita, he's like a king, the President, everyone loves Ron Baker,” Van Vleet said.

The country is beginning to fall in love with Ron Baker, as well, after the 6-foot-3 guard went for 16 points, six rebounds and four assists in the upset of No. 1 Gonzaga over the weekend.

Baker knocked down four 3-pointers, and came up especially big in the second half. During one 15-second stretch, Baker knocked down two free throws to take a one-point lead -- and then knocked down a 3-pointer from which Gonzaga would never truly recover.

“It was a rainbow,” head coach Gregg Marshall said after Sunday's game. “It was majestic, and it was forever.”

So it's the perfect story, right? Hometown star stays at home at the local school, immediately becomes the best player on the team, hits the game-winning shots in the final minute against a top-five team.

Well, not so much.

Baker had offers from South Dakota State and Arkansas-Little Rock coming out of high school, although Wichita State was recruiting him. But the Shockers were eyeing him as a preferred walk-on, not as a scholarship player.

With the local pull and reputation of the program, though, Baker decided to play for Wichita State -- but he had to pay his own way.

Despite his relative lack of hype, Marshall was optimistic about Baker's potential.

“I've said many times if Ron Baker were a stock, you better get in now,” he said. “He's country strong. He might have tossed a few hay bales back on the farm or something. But I tell you, he's going to be a good player.”

There was a logjam of experienced guards on the perimeter before the 2011-12 season, so Baker took a redshirt for his true freshman campaign. (Yes, he essentially paid to take a redshirt year.)

At the start of this season, it looked like everything would pay off. Baker immediately became a starter, scoring 18 points on four 3-pointers in the season-opening win over North Carolina Central. While he didn't score in double-figures for the next month, Baker was contributing and had certainly earned his spot.

Then came Dec. 18, when Wichita State announced that Baker had suffered a stress fracture in his left foot and would miss six weeks -- meaning the postseason was in question.

Although he would miss the next 21 games, Baker wasn't going to let the injury keep him from the postseason. He suddenly returned for the Missouri Valley tournament and immediately scored 15 points in the quarterfinal win over Missouri State.

“It was a shot of offense,” Van Vleet said. “He's just a natural scorer, a guy that knows how to play. It was a good stimulus for us on offense.”

As Baker heads into the regional semifinals against La Salle and its collection of tough, explosive guards, there's another fun wrinkle to the story: Baker's 20th birthday is on Saturday.

Combine his birthday with Ron Baker Day, and a trip to the Final Four on Saturday night could cap arguably the greatest possible week for a college basketball player.

“It would be like drinking a milkshake after your five-star dinner,” Baker said.

Or, as they say out here, the perfect Hollywood ending.

Hey, with his look, maybe Baker can star in the remake.

 
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