A thing I love doing every day is checking stat sheets from all over the world. Seeing what ex NBA players are up to overseas is always interesting, because some of them just can’t make the transition or seeing Americans put up ridiculous numbers in China and some having the audacity to say that defense is actually played there or finding guys after not having had them on my radar for years pop up in a stat sheet. Just the other day I wasn’t only shocked to see Filiberto Riviera who everyone calls Juny the same way every one calls Quantez Robertson Tez still playing professional ball at age 39. But what is really peculiar about his career is simply that after playing 5 solid seasons in Europe including 3 seasons in Germany with Artland and Bamberg, he totally disappeared from the basketball map in Europe and played the rest of his career in Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Mexico. Another guy that I discovered again after a long while on the stat sheet was 39 year old undersized big man Torvoris Baker (201-F-1983, college: Detroit). He gave me that surprised but happy line of wow that guy is still playing. A reason for that was probably because he is back in the Regionalliga where eurobasket.com keeps stats and the last 6 seasons with BBC Osnabruck where he balled in the Oberliga and second Regionalliga, there weren’t stats on eurobasket.com to remain in the fold with how his career is doing. I had interviewed the Detroit native twice once in 2010 and the other time in 2015. So it was only fitting that we would keep our 5-6 year cycle of interviews continue with a new one. I reached him on a cool November day and had to compliment him about still being able to play the game that he loves at the ripe age of 38. I figured that maybe he took some inspiration from his ex Gotha head coach Chris Ensminger who also was a dinosaur playing until he was 40 years old, but boy was I wrong. ‘I don’t really have a secret. I just try to eat healthy and workout. That with a mixture of being mentally strong. Chris Ensminger no comment’, stressed Torvoris Baker. Oh right there had been some kind of issue that Baker had had with him in Gotha.
Torvoris Baker who lists MJ, Kobe, Shaq and Hakeem on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore was born on March 24, 1983 in Albany, Georgia and grew up in Detroit and played at Cooley high school. He then made the jump to the NCAA playing for the University Of Detroit Mercy from 2003-2006 playing a total of 92 games. He was able to improve his scoring and rebounding averages each season and as a senior played 32 games averaging 8.9ppg, 7.6rpg, 1.3apg, FG: 50.6%, 3PT: 11.1%, FT: 64.1%. He began his rookie season in Ireland with Neptune Cork (Ireland-SuperLeague) and totally dominated playing 16 games averaging 23.0ppg, 14.2rpg, 2.8apg, 1.6spg, FGP: 65.5%, FT: 44.2%. As is usually the case with guys that begin in countries with lower leagues like Ireland or Iceland and have that man vs boy dominance on the court normally find their way to Germany as Tovoris Baker did. And one can say the rest is history. He has been in Germany ever since and is playing in his 15th season there. His first destination was Herten in the third division called Pro B. He needed absolutely no adjustment time and averaged 18.8ppg, Reb-2 (11.6rpg), 2.2apg, 1.7spg, 2FGP: 58.3%, 3FGP: 28.0%, FT: 58.7%. Then came the best stretch of his professional career playing in the German second division called Pro A playing 208 games for teams like Chemnitz, Osnabrueck, Wurzburg and Gotha. He even took a step back in 2011 after 3 years in the Pro A and played for Gotha and was an instrumental part of helping them climb to the Pro A. In 3 seasons in the Pro A with 3 different teams, he belonged to the top rebounding big men. With BV Chemnitz he averaged 12,0ppg and 8,1rpg, with Osnabrueck 16,1ppg and 8,8rpg and with Gotha averaged 12,8ppg and 7,9rpg. It really doesn’t matter which pro player you talk to in Germany that isn’t in the BBL, the big goal and dream is always the highest level the easyCredit BBL. I always thought that he should have had a chance and was actually so close, but in the end will always have that what could have been thoughts. ‘At first it was an itch but after getting a call from Bayreuth after my 2009-10 season in Osnabrueck but we never closed the deal. I realized that they will always take the taller or bigger player. But at my size I would have been a small forward and my ball handling just wasn’t where it needed to be’, stressed Torvoris Baker.
He had his most eventful time with Gotha where he played from 2011-2015. His time there began with highs winning the Pro B title in 2012 and putting up stellar stats, but in his last 2 seasons his stats dipped as did his playing time under new head coach BBL legend Chris Ensminger. ‘My relationship with Ensminger I would say was more like a hi and bye situation. I mean we talked rarely. I understand that this is a business and with that being said sometimes we have to make business decisions. I was hesitant to play another season in Gotha. I was convinced that I would get that playing time that I was afraid I wouldn’t receive and asked to return another season. I chose to stay because I had once again no offers and I have a family so my decision was also based on what’s best for them’, remembered Torvoris Baker. After his second season in Gotha where he put up 12,8ppg and 7,9rpg could have been the time to move on, but he stayed on board. That could have been the perfect time to play in the BBL, but there were no coaches that believed in giving him an opportunity. ‘The BBL would have been nice. But I found Gotha to be the perfect situation. I can remember that year Ensminger didn’t want me to have as a player but was convinced by owner and president Frau Kollmar that I could get the job done. I had no other offers after that decent season. In which was also frustrating. Well I had one. But it was to play for the second team in Gotha’, stated Torvoris Baker who lists fellow work horses Jeremy Black and Marcus Smallwood as his toughest foes in the Pro A.
In the summer of 2015 was a tough time as he was waiting by the phone and no one called. His mother and his wife at that time were his biggest supporters keeping his head clear of negative thoughts. He didn’t get those big time offers so he settled to play for BBC Osnabrueck where he was from 2015-2020. Even if he didn’t play at a high level, he did help the club move up from Bezirksklasse, to Bezirksliga, to Oberliga to Regionalliga 2 (5th league). It never mattered where he played, because he took every league seriously and never saw himself as a man playing with boys. ‘I don’t look at it as making an adjustment. Still competition, teamwork, video, strategy, practice, games, ball etc. I approached every game the same no matter the league’, expressed Torvoris Baker. He was able to continue to put explosive stats the last years with BBC Osnabrueck even if his athleticism declined with age. ‘I’m still the same player. Just a little bit slower and jumping ability isn’t the same. Kind of lost that 2-3 years ago. But my legs are definitely not at a high level anymore’, warned Torvoris Baker.
Let’s fast forward to the 21-22 season and at 39 the American who calls Mr sniper 90/50/40 Chase Griffin as one of his five best teammates of all-time was still playing and even moved up a few leagues to the Regionalliga and played with TVI Ibbenbueren which is only one below the Pro B where he played before and two behind the Pro A. He had been affected by COVID just like everyone else in the world and was appalled how a laboratory mistake had destroyed million of lives. The pandemic also made his judgement of the world leaders more cloudy. With everything that happened, he still had to go out like everybody else and perform a job and in his case two. Usually guys balling in the Regionalliga have to have a second job, because the pay is so bad. In his case he works as a construction worker for the German company Herkenhoff. He is a Detroit native that always knew what work was and had to do it from a young age on. ‘I am no stranger to work. Rather basketball or and actual 9-5. I had a job in high school and always found a summer job in the off season in college. So there’s always work to be done on and off the court’, warned Torvoris Baker. Sometimes being a man of color in 2022 and living a normal life in a culture outside of America can be very challenging, but he has been fortunate that people in Germany are more welcoming than people in other countries ‘I believe if you can make it in Detroit you can make almost anywhere. But here in Germany it is peaceful. Of course there are people that don’t agree with you being here but that’s everywhere. No matter the race. Some people will never change’, stressed Torvoris Baker.
The American who hasn’t seen the sequel to the classic Coming To America and doesn’t believe it can be good, because they waited too long was a monster with TVI Ibbenbueren in the Regionalliga this season. It has been 8 years since he took apart teams in the Pro A and the game just isn’t the same anymore. ‘The quality of German basketball has definitely changed since I played on a high level. More and more German kids are interested in basketball and they are putting the work in. The style of play is also changing’, commented Torvoris Baker . When you have played as long as he has, there really is only one goal that you strive for. ‘New season, new club, new coach and teammates. Everyone with that one common goal. WIN and everything that comes along with winning’, said Torvoris Baker. He is still a force on the court as he demonstrated in a win over Grevenbroich where he was in total beast mode scoring 20 points, hauled down 17 boards and racked up 6 assists like a Nikola Jokic. And nailed Dorsten with 21 points and 16 boards. He remembers having some 20/20 games in Ireland and many double double games over the years. As he gets older one thing never changes as pressure is always there no matter what level your stuck at. ‘I’d have to say I enjoy pressure. There is still pressure at this age but pressure will always be a challenge and I love challenges’, stressed Torvoris Baker. As you reach 40, you have to take care of your body more if you still want to play well at any level and that is something he has been able to do with the aid of Steffen Droske who he worked with when he was in Gotha. Coaching is something he has already dabbled in and something he could imagine doing again. ‘I only coached 2 years. Stopped because I had too much on my plate. Working, coaching and playing. I might return to the coaching scene next year’, stressed Torvoris Baker. He and ex teammate Chase Griffin who is 38, there will be no bets here as to who will reach 40 and still be active. This had to be a season to remember. He helped lead Ibbenburen into the playoffs losing to Deutzer averaging 11,2ppg, 8,9rpg, 1,3apg and 1,0spg. ‘This is my last run. Closing the locker for good’, warned Torvoris Baker. Even when Baker retires, he will be working his 9-5 job, but it won’t be the end of his affiliation to basketball. One may see him more often in Vechta in the gym. ‘Keep both eyes and ears open for my son Justin Onyejiaka. He’s going to be the next best player coming out of Germany. Don’t forget the name. Stay tuned’, warned Torvoris Baker in November 2021. The big man definitely knew what he was talking about because his son Justin Onyejiaka was instrumental in the Regionalliga team Vechta 2 reach the Pro B and the NBBL team making the Final 4 in Frankfurt.,