It was a bitter cold late afternoon day in downtown Boston on January 18th in 2017 as the NBA was nearing the allstar break and The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks were drifting in two totally different directions as the Boston Celtics were heading to a #1 finish in the Atlantic division and the New York Knicks were going into no man´s land finishing the season with a 31-51 record finishing in 12th place and missing the playoffs once again as a once proud organization continued to develop backwards instead of ahead. They had strengthened their team with a Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and having NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony and having some young talent, but in the NBA that never guarantees success. But on this evening, the Knicks came to play in Boston winning 117-106 and getting 30 points from the ex Chicago Bull Derrick Rose and an explosive 39 points by Isaiah Thomas from Boston couldn´t stop them. I was in Boston visiting my family and wanted to relive my childhood again with getting some autographs before the game at the Knicks hotel. Back in the 80´s getting NBA players autographs was an easy task while now it had become more difficult with extended security and keeping the collectors as far as away as possible and giving the players the opportunity to come over and sign as they walked to the bus which was parked at the other side of the door. Of course if the majority of the players are wearing head phones and jamming their rap and hip hop as they depart the hotel, then it makes it more difficult to hear their names being blurted by the anxious and somewhat desperate collectors. It turned out to be an afternoon where there was a trend of where the Europeans and African players demonstrated some love for the fans while the majority of the players blew everyone off. I can be proud to say I got autographs selfies from Lithuanian forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Maurice Ndour, and ex NBA champion Sasa Vujacic with the latter two not being able to read their stat line after 40 minutes as they were never inserted. Kuzminskas finished with 17 points and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes. The superstars Rose and Anthony excited the 5 star Boston hotel taking a straight route to the Bus and ignoring the collectors But it isn´t always just the stars that ignore the fans, but also the rookies. Back in the day that would have been unheard of, but in 2017 it actually happened. During my wait for the Knicks, a normal looking 193 cm man exited the hotel and if it hadn´t been for the collectors yelling his name, he would of slipped by me without me even noticing. But the blond haired guy who remined me a bit of Shaggy from Scooby Doo was actually Ron Baker. A guard who had had a stellar college career at Wichita State (NCAA) reaching the NCAA final 4 in 2013 and making the Knicks squad via a very potent 2016 NBA Summer league with the Knicks. He didn´t go the normal route of getting on the bus, but actually left the area in a car. I was a bit disappointed that he didn´t come over and sign and pose for a selfie and a bit surprised that a rookie shunned the collectors. I mean I wasn´t making a living selling the stuff, but just there for fun, but he didn´t know that. Every off season, it is always interesting and fun to see where ex NBA players land in Europe. When I saw last summer that Baker had landed with top team CSKA Moscow, I quickly remembered my time seeing him brush the collectors off and head of in the dark of the night to the TD Garden. I then had another déjà vu when I read that CSKA Moscow had also signed Mike James a guy who has had a great career in Europe putting up great stats with various Euroleague teams, but also had a short NBA run a few years ago with Phoenix and New Orleans. By chance, I had been home another time and seen the Pelicans before a game and James also pulled a direct strut to the bus with no time for the collectors. It´s funny to see that with the few times that I actually see NBA players for autographs, that two guys that denied me now play for the same team in Europe. But with all I have read about what kind of guy Ron Baker really is and how much he is liked whereever he goes, I have come to the conclusion that on that particular day where he shunned all collectors, he actually had some form of business that prohibited him from stopping for a few minutes and doing the rounds with the autograph collectors. I have no idea how Mike James is handling himself with the autograph seekers in Europe, but I´m sure Ron Baker is treating the fans with class. He was one of the most popular Knicks when he played in New York. “Sometimes CSKA Moscow organizes autograph sessions. Ron is very open. Ron had one one personal autograph session before our first VTB home game. He was very enthusiastic about it”, stressed CSKA press secretary Nikolai Tsynkevich
Ron Baker is a 26 year old 193cm guard from Scott City, Kansas that is playing his fourth professional season and first in Europe with CSKA Moscow. He comes from a tiny town called Utica and it isn´t the one in New York, but in Kansas that has only 145 people. His dad was a farmer and his mother is a school teacher. When he was very young, he wasn´t able to play AAU basketball until much later in Wichita and was off the grid in recruiting. It also didn´t help his cause that he was very small in ninth grade, but he eventually grew to 6,3 by his junior year of high school. Early in the recruiting race, he only had interest from two schools South Dakota State and Arkansas-Little Rock. It wasn´t until he led Scott City High school to the state tournament in his senior year where he averaged 20.4ppg, 7.5ppg, 3.0apg, 2.0bpg, 4.6spg;that he was noticed . He led the school to a 25-1 record and scored the winning basket in the 3A title game with a put-back at the buzzer against Minneapolis High. Basketball didn´t only keep him busy as he was a three sport star and quarterbacked the football team and played baseball. Something not to unusual as one has seen top athletes all the time exceling at more than one sport as New York Ranger legend Brian Leetch did at Avon Old Farms in ice hockey and baseball. Baker could have had a try-out at Kansas(NCAA) but declined at the time because he was unhappy with his basketball form that he had at that time. He finally chose Wichita State and one can truly say and the rest is history.
After redshirting his freshman year, he would go on to have a stellar four year career at Wichita State from 2012-2016 playing a total of 123 NCAA games. His achievements there are unending. He won the MVC regular season three times, won the MVC tournament title in 2014 and was a NABC Division I All-District 16 1st Team in 2014 and a NABC All-District 16 1st Team in 2015 and 2016. Not too mention his NCAA tournament runs reaching the NCAA Final 4 as a freshman, and the Sweet 16 in 2016. In the 2013-2014 season he helped the Shockers go undefeated in the regular season. As a freshman he averaged 8.7ppg, 3.2rpg, 1.8apg, FGP: 51.7%, 3PT: 35.7%, FT: 82.2%. He had scored in double figures the first time with 15 points in a 69-59 victory against Missouri State, but his breakout game came against Gonzaga. Trailing by double figures, he helped lead the Wichita Shockers on a shocking 22-9 run hitting two treys and two free throws and finishing with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 dimes in the come from behind 76-70 win. In the NCAA Eilte 8 victory over Ohio State he posted 9 points while playing power forward. He was by nature a point guard at Wichita State, but one could see his versatility that he had playing more positions. He was primarily a two guard that could shoot it and make big plays and had strong ball handling skills and basketball IQ that many would love to possess. The amazing Shockers run ended in the Final 4 against Louisville 72-68 where he had 11 points and 8 rebounds. There he had to watch Russ Smith post 21 points while ex NBA player Peyton Siva had 9 points. Baker will have a reunion playing against Siva again in the Euroleague against Siva. In his sophomore season with the Shockers he played 36 games averaging 13.1ppg, 3.8rpg, 3.1apg, 1.4spg, FGP: 45.6%, 3PT: 38%, FT: 84.2%. He bowed out in the NCAA Sweet 16 to powerhouse school Kentucky.
He was able to improve his scoring average again as a junior playing 35 games averaging 14.7ppg, 4.5rpg, 2.5apg, 1.3spg, FGP: 48.9%, 3PT: 38.3%, FT: 75.8%. That season he scored in double figures in 32 of 35 games. His best scoring games was against Drake with 23 points, had 22 points against Seton Hall and 21 points against Memphis that all resulted in wins. He also had a monster 18 points and 13 rebounds in a 19 point win over Evansville. The season ended against Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament 80-71 where he finished with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. In his senior year he played 34 games averaging 14.1ppg, 4.9rpg, 3.3apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 48.9%, 3PT: 34.8%, FT: 79.7%. He scored in double figures in 27 of 34 games. Some of his best scoring games were against Loyola, Il and USC with 25 points apiece. He also hit Tulsa and Emporia State with 23 points apiece back to back. His last NCAA game was against Miami at March Madness where he scored 11 points. The American remembers his fondest moments at Wichita State. “My most memorable games was at the NCAA Final 4 where we lost to Louisville. The stage was set in a 70,000 plus stadium and playing in front of my family. That is what you grow up with trying to get to. Another great memory was beating Kansas my home state in the NCAA tournament round of 32 to get to the Sweet 16.I grew up in Kansas so playing and beating them was an ultimate goal of mine. It will be something that I will remember forever”, warned Ron Baker. Besides his versatile play on the court and dedication, there were a few other things that he will be remembered for. One was a commercial that he shot with teammates and current NBA player Fred Van Fleet at favorite hang out place Mexican café Carlos O Kelley. In this commercial they filmed it at the actual café and in it were all the friends of the players. If Baker hadn´t become a professional basketball player, he could of made a good figure standing behind the camera. The other thing that is still a part of the Shockers way of playing is that play angry mentality. It is something that Baker learned to practice at Wichita State and something he continued to show at the pro ranks. At first glance, one may think that this style of playing isn´t within the rules, but that isn´t the case. Playing angry is just having that feeling of wanting it more than the opponent with hustle and getting to your goal by not allowing the opponent to beat you. Guys that never played with him at Wichita State, but came on after him like current VTB League player Darral Willis of BC Nizhny Novgorod (Russia-VTB) who also will battle Baker this season has only the best words and utmost respect for the ex Shocker. “He has a big legacy there. He was a walk on and earned a spot on the roster. He was one of the best players that ever played at Wichita State. What he did there speaks for it´s self. He worked very hard and became the go to guy. I remember coach Marshall always telling us that he was a gritty player that played with high intensity on the defensive end. He invited me to help him at one of his camps. He isn´t one of those guys that distances himself from their ex school, but he always goes back. I think that if he keeps working hard that we will get back to the NBA. Anything is possible. His hard work will take him a long way”, warned Darral Willis.
The professional route of a player can go in different directions depending on how a player does at the NBA Pro Summer League. In the summer of 2016, he was invited by the New York Knicks and more than convinced management that an undrafted player could play at the NBA level. That summer in Orlando he played 5 games averaging 14.0ppg, 5.6rpg, 2.4apg, 2.8spg. If he hadn´t had that big display, he might never have reached the NBA and rather been balling in Europe since 2016, but the basketball God wanted it differently for the Kansas native. He got the last roster spot as Chasson Randle sustained an injury. He would play parts of three seasons with the New York Knicks playing a total of 96 games starting 14 games and averaging 3,1ppg, 1,4rpg and 1,8apg and got the reputation of being a great teammate that always played with great energy. In his first two seasons, he also had two stints with the Westchester Knicks (NBA G League). The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural fan´s Knicks stay started well as a rookie averaging 4,2ppg and getting great feedback from the coaching staff, but injuries curtailed his second season and from then on it went downhill. He had the audacity to try to block an Anthony Davis dunk from the wing, but injured himself and his NBA career would never be the same again. In his rookie season he played 51 games and logged 857 minutes, while in his second season his games shrunk to 29 games and 385 minutes. In his last season he played only 11 games and 152 minutes and was gone by December 2018. He scored in double figures in 6 games including 13 points in a loss against Golden State and 12 points a piece in loses against Atlanta and Washington. Then he was released to make roster space for talented Alonzo Trier. A coaching change and his two biggest supporters Phil Jackson and Jeff Hornacek didn´t help his cause. He didn´t get a real chance after the coaching change. His skills of playing aggressive defense and being a solid point guard from the bench was NBA worthy, but his poor shooting and playing off ball didn´t translate to the NBA.
Despite being released, he remembers his time fondly with all the Europeans that he played with in New York. “I played with Europeans like Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas. What stood out to me was how they played the game. I always felt like Europeans had a good feel for the game of basketball. You can see spacing, and movement of the ball with European players. I always had a good connection with those two guys in my rookie season. We all started a few games together and always had a good chemistry. We were rookies and going out hard every night. These were great memories. I never thought that I could play together with guys from different countries and be able to relate so well to”, stressed Ron Baker. He also will never forget his special relationship to NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony. Anthony who isn´t only an amazing player, but also a jokester called him Ron Burgundy from the Will Ferrell movie Anchorman which resulted New Yorkers to dress up as him for Halloween. “I was a rookie under his wing. I had a great experience with him as a teammate. He was fun to play with. Our situation in New York wasn´t the most ideal. I think that everybody knows that there were a couple things going on in the organization that us players had no control over. We just came into the gym every day and did the best that we could. Mello showed up as a pro every day and worked hard. He took care of me on and off the court. Experience wise I couldn´t have asked for a better veteran. Obviously he is going to be a hall of famer. So to be able to tell my family down the road that I could lean on him and play with is pretty special to me”, added Ron Baker. Despite being released by the Knicks, he quickly found a new home with the Washington Wizards, but that stay was shorter than some Knicks losing streaks in the past as he played his first game on December 22nd against Phoenix and his last game on January 6th against Oklahoma. He made a good impression in his first game and got the trust being put into a triple OT win over Phoenix where he played 14 minutes and still had that play angry approach on the court slowing down scorer Jamal Crawford. His fate in Washington was the same as in New York as he was released for another player Chasson Randle getting a guaranteed contract. In 4 games with the Wizards he logged 43 minutes amassing 0 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block.
After 3 years in the NBA, he made the difficult decision last summer to try his luck overseas. He couldn´t have picked a better team than 2019 Euroleague champion CSKA Moscow one of the finest addresses in Europe. “My decision to come over to CSKA and Russia was kind of tough. I had a couple two way options in the USA that I was debating, but I talked to Kyle Hines and coach Dimitris were great on the phone telling me what it was like in Moscow and what the basketball was like. I was just trying to weigh my options. After talking with Kyle I felt like I could have a good year with CSKA. I was nervous though because I had never been in Europe. The first few months have been great and CSKA did a great job welcoming me and made the transition very easy. The American is playing for an organization rich in tradition like the New York Knicks and in the famous Madison garden and has a little bit of the same. His new home arena USH may feel like a small NCAA gym with it´s 5,500 capacity, but in terms of the winning tradition of CSKA Moscow, he can feel something very special there. “When you walk into the arena you see all the banners of VTB and Euroleague titles. The opponents play with a big chip on their shoulders and give it us their best when they play us. You have to show up every night and wear that CSKA on your jersey. Your almost like a target in the Euroleague. You have to show up every day to work prepared and ready to compete”, warned Ron Baker. After having a very disappointing third NBA season in New York and Washington, the ex Wichita star doesn´t have a chip on his shoulder about having to prove something, but has another outlook on the situation. “Playing my first three years in New York was a great experience. I don´t look at having a chip in that perspective, I just look at it as a new opportunity. And a new chance to show the people my personal skills and what I am all about. It actually feels like a long time since I played. This is a great opportunity to show people what I am all about”, expressed Ron Baker.
He already won his first title in the pre-season with the Alona Cup where he contributed 11 points off the bench in a victory against 2019 Euroleague finalist Efes Istanbul. He nailed 3 three pointers, hauled down 4 rebounds and also had 3 dimes. He showed quickly that he didn´t need much adjustment time coming to Russia and CSKA Moscow. “I grew up in a small town and moving to New York was nerve wracking. It was a big adjustment for me and it took time to see how the city moves and how the people went about their day to day lives. Moscow is very big, bigger than New York city and a little more spread out. The biggest wake up call has been the language barrier. I just try to communicate with people the best way that I can. It is tough to communicate sometimes when you can´t express yourself”, added Ron Baker. The American also knew that coming to a well known organization like CSKA Moscow who have huge expectations and winning culture, that his game would only profit with the gigantic talent pool. “Coming to CSKA, I was very excited because I knew that they had some great talent and great team chemistry. Kyle Hines has been here for some time and it evolves around him. He shows up as a professional each day and has been a great player in this league. Clyburn was an MVP type player last season when they won the Euroleague. There are also other guys that I know from the NBA like Darrin Hillard and Mike James. We are very deep and the great thing about the Europeans and Russians are unselfish and know how to play the game. For me it was the right fit playing the game the right way and doing the little things to help the team win”, warned Ron Baker. So far he has played only 3 Euroleague games and no VTB league games. In the Euroleague he has been efficient in his minutes of 14 minutes per game averaging 4,7ppg, 1,0rpg and 1,3apg. He has had good shot selection and practiced his play angry style and defended with passion. It is also no secret that the guard rotation is deep, but with a skilled roster like CSKA Moscow, it is always difficult to get good minutes, but as soon as an injury occurs, the playing time will look very different for the American. “We have a lot of guards that can handle the ball well. So what is going to be important is giving the ball handler space having a good chemistry on offense. Mike and Danny are both guys htat can handle the ball and create for others. So whenever the ball is swung guys like Janis and other guys off ball get a chance to create then we can do so, but with the great guards that we have, we have to almost take turns to space the floor and create opportunities for them and when you do that it will give us opportunities for kick out shots and different close out situations we can get the defense into”, warned Ron Baker.
There isn´t only a influx of talented guards and wings on the team, but the club also has top big men. Starting with the Tom Brady of the Euroleague Kyle Hines. The New Jersey native who played in Germany for Bamberg early in his career is going for his 5th Euroleague title this season with is the most titles of any American to ever play in the Euroleague. The other talented big man is German national player Johannes Voigtmann who was still playing the sport handball as a teenager before he switched over to Basketball. He made his biggest development with the Fraport Skyliners coming in as a raw talent and leaving in 2016 with a Fiba Europe Cup title and the best passing big man in the German BBL and a versatile game that not many could match. Baker is in awe of a Kyle Hines and his game while with Voigtmann he can talk NFL football all day long. “Kyle is all about playing the right way. He is about playing defense and rebounding. He is our head of the snake. It has been great to be around the guys and him. Kyle does the little things and has a lot of experience in the Euroleague. You look at him and you think that he is undersized, but he really uses his strength to his advantage. He gives guys who are a lot taller than him fits on the low post. And what is great about him is that he is just a unique athlete. He can push the break and facilitate. He is really good at being a hockey passer. He can hit you on the short roll and is always looking for his teammates for kick outs and three´s. He just an all around good player. He really knows how to play this game. One guy that I wasn´t familiar with when I came here was Johannes Voigtmann. I knew that he had played with Darrun Hilliard with him last season with Baskona. What really impressed me about him isn´t even about basketball. We are locker buddies. And talk about the NFL. He almost knows the NFL better than I do. We have had a great relationship talking about things in the States. Basketball wise he is very talented. A seven footer that can stretch the floor and is very mobile. He can shoot the three, is unselfish and knows how to play. He shows a lot of talent having good court vision and passing the ball. Those are the type of bigs that you want to play with. As a guard your always looking for him to knock down shots but he and Kyle share the ball”, warned Ron Baker. Baker has only been with CSKA Moscow a few months and focused to help win games, but he knows that that NBA back door will always be there for him. “I am the kind of guy that likes to wake up and take that day head on. I´m a CSKA player and focusing on that. The NBA is not going anywhere. It´s a great organization with great players. If the opportunity presents it´s self next year, then I would like to play in it again. But right now I´m focused on being a part of CSKA. Coach Dimitris really knows how to coach and run a franchise/team and I´m just enjoying this. Things are going pretty smooth now. 3-0 in Euroleague. I hope we can keep it up and continue to build something special here”, warned Ron Baker. Even if he is playing in the second best league in the world behind the NBA with the Euroleague, he has been able to uphold a special bond with the NBA this season. When he had his short stint with the Washington Wizards, he chose to wear #84. He was only the second guy after legendary Michigan(NCAA) and NBA legend Chris Webber to wear that number. The American has chosen to keep the tradition going with CSKA Moscow keeping #84. A special number for a special player.