Ron Baker could have said anything.
He could have posed and reinforced the point with a couple pounds to the chest. He could have raised a finger to proclaim himself No. 1 and it wouldn’t have been far from the truth, because when you deliver dagger after dagger while scoring 16 points to knock off college basketball’s No. 1 team to get to the Sweet 16, you earn the right to celebrate.
Surrounded by pandemonium, Baker’s mind was clear when his postgame interview with TNT’s Jaime Maggio concluded. The camera cut to Baker, who pointed and looked right into millions of living rooms across the country and spoke from his heart.
“Scott City, I love you.”
From the farm to the Final Four, Baker’s journey begins and ends with Scott City.
Neil and Ranae Baker were accomplished athletes in their day.
Neil was a baseball player at Fort Hays State and Ranae was a three-sport athlete at Dodge City Community College. Since graduation, the couple can’t name a sport they haven’t coached.
So when Ron Delaine Baker was born on March 30, 1993, it was decided.
“Some people do business, some people do farming, we do sports,” Neil says now.
In his formative years, Ron was taught to respect everyone. On the playing field, that meant teammates, coaches and officials. In the school room, that meant not to judge, and to treat everyone fairly and equally.
If Ron was going to do something, he was required to exert 100 percent.
“His parents pushed him really hard,” says Kaleb Roemer, who graduated from Scott City High with Ron and played basketball with him. “They wanted him to do the best he could and they did a lot for him. I think what he’s doing now has a lot to do with his parents.”
Neil and Ranae were raised on farms and while Ron wasn’t, that blue-collar work ethic survived.
Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for Ron to spend his summers helping out neighbors or family friends with manual labor. The summer before his junior year Baker volunteered to help a friend’s family reshingle a roof in triple-digit temperatures.
“I don’t know anyone who would volunteer to do that,” Roemer says. “That’s not the best job in western Kansas.”
The humble, respectful Baker you see playing for Wichita State is the mirror image of how he’s always been.
“The thing about my parents is that they always put me in the best possible situation,” Ron says. “They taught me to play the game the right way and sportsmanship was a big thing growing up. I’m just very thankful for that.”
During a summer camp when he was a middle schooler, Baker lost the ball during a drill and instead of sprinting to retrieve it, he sulked.
Glenn O’Neil, the camp instructor who would later coach Baker in high school, ripped into him about his behavior.
“I never pouted again after that,” Baker says.
That’s the common thread between Neil Baker, O’Neal and Gregg Marshall at WSU, the three coaches who have molded Baker. They all believe in playing the game a certain way.
“Sometimes as a kid, you think showboating gets you more attention,” Baker says. “But they taught me if you play the game the right way and respect everyone, a lot more people are going to take notice of you for that than all that celebration stuff.”
Scott City has produced several outstanding football, basketball and baseball athletes through the years. But O’Neil has never seen someone with a better competitive spirit or work ethic than Baker.
The story about Baker winning a Knights of Columbus free-throw championship has been making the rounds. But what gets overlooked is that Baker missed his second attempt. He had to make the next 23 to be recognized. Not one of the next 23 shots drew iron.
That is just one example of Baker’s dedication to repetition. To stand out in the games, Baker had to hoist thousands of shots in the gym and put up thousands of reps in the weight room.
“A lot of people don’t realize where the success came from,” O’Neil says. “It came from all those hours away from the spotlight when he was working hard.”
Baker sprouted from 6-foot and 160 pounds as a sophomore to dunking as a 6-3, 190-pound senior in high school.
When his body finally caught up to his basketball intelligence and natural talent, Baker transformed into a bonafide star.
Location was irrelevant and Wichita State has reaped the reward from identifying that.
“It doesn’t matter if you grow up in a town of 4,000 when you can play the game, and Ron Baker can play the game,” said Dennis Hamilton, who coached Dodge City against Baker in his senior season.
When the Bakers were looking to move their family from Utica in 2004, Scott City was a natural choice.
The town had the athletic background, the family values and the kind of people they wanted to raise Ron around. The fact that it was a Class 3A school and Ron would be able to play football, basketball and baseball appealed to his father, too.
“We really believe that being a three-sport athlete makes you a better overall athlete,” Neil Baker says. “You’re more competitive, more well-rounded. Scott City was the perfect fit.”
Baker was blessed with natural ability and had the willingness to work to perfect his silky smooth jump shot. But the toughness Baker exudes is bred by Scott City.
He’s not afraid to step over to take a charge. He’s not afraid to dive on the ground for a ball. He’s not afraid to take the big shot on the big stage.
“You can definitely tell he’s a Scott City kid by the way that he plays,” says Mason Turner, another former teammate.
Baker could have blossomed into a star in Wichita or Kansas City or any other city, but he didn’t. He was raised in Scott City.
So how did a national sensation pop out of a small, western Kansas town?
“Scott City has made me who I am today,” Baker says. “Without growing up there, I’m not sure I’m the Ron Baker kid I am today. I’m not sure I’d be here. Scott City is in my roots.”