Ron Baker didn’t read much as a kid growing up in western Kansas, he said. He was too busy playing hoops.
So having his name on a children’s book was never on his list of goals.
But basketball was, and Baker grew up to become a star shooting guard. At Wichita State University, where he just graduated, he became one of the school’s most accomplished players and led the team to three conference titles and a Final Four appearance. He just landed a partially guaranteed one-year deal with the New York Knicks.
His story, though, is famously unlikely. He didn’t get much attention from Division I recruiters coming out of Scott City High School, and he took a spot as a walk-on at Wichita State University, paying for his own schooling for a season until a scholarship became available.
That’s the basis of a new full-color, hardback children’s book about and co-authored by Baker. It’s titled “You’re Too Big to Dream Small,” and it will be ready for release on Aug. 3. In early August, Baker will appear at four book signings in Kansas, including stops in Wichita, his hometown of Scott City and in El Dorado, where his book publisher is based.
The book’s rhyming text tells the story of a young boy who watched basketball on television and dreamed of becoming a player. He achieves his dream, mainly because he believes in himself.
The boy in the story is Baker, and the illustrations by Briana Ladwig, daughter of one-time Wichita Eagle and children’s book illustrator Tim Ladwig, are lush watercolor depictions of moments from Baker’s childhood. Baker was intricately involved in planning the illustrations, even providing photos and requesting that certain scenes and certain people from his childhood be included.
“The book itself is really big on its illustrations, and the biggest thing I wanted is for my photos to be more of the story,” Baker said, calling from a break in his NBA training camp in Orlando last week. “In this book, the pictures are really drawn out for kids to see the action and put an image in their heads when they read the poem. I’m hoping they can take away something from it, whether it’s getting outside and being active, having fun with family or friends, or just always believing in yourself regardless of what your last name is, what race you are or where you come from.”
The idea for the book came from Jeff Knapp, an author and the owner of Kraken Publishing in El Dorado. Knapp, an aspiring author, wrote a series of four young adult books about a boy who discovers that his dog is the head of a magical kingdom. When he tried to have the books published, he learned his best bet was self publishing.
He put out his young adult series, “The Kingdom at the End of the Driveway,” in 2010, and followed it up last year by publishing a children’s book by well-known Towanda elementary school teacher James Thomas Taylor called “My Mommy Burnt The Cookies.” The story is about Taylor’s mother, a notoriously bad cook, who agreed to try to help him make cookies for a class party. She burned the cookies, but mother and son made a memory, which was the most important thing.
“After that, I knew I wanted to do more books for people,” said Knapp, who’s also a basketball fan. “I knew I wanted to get someone everyone loves, and everyone loves Ron Baker.”
Knapp took a chance and sent a letter to one of Wichita State’s assistant coaches, explaining his idea. When the season was over, Baker was handed a stack of fan mail, and he found Knapp’s letter, which included a copy of “My Mommy Burnt The Cookies.” Baker floated the idea to his marketing agent.
Baker and Knapp spoke by phone as he began his post-college run at the NBA. They discussed the outline for the book, its message and what it should include. Baker sent photos so Ladwig could get her paintings as accurate as possible.
One illustration, Baker’s favorite, features a lush Western Kansas wheat field, reminiscent of fields on Baker’s grandfather’s farm. Originally, Ladwig put a combine in the field, but Baker asked that his younger brother, Sloan, and younger sister, Audrey, be included in the picture. The finished product shows Baker and his brother playing baseball in the field as Audrey runs around with a butterfly net.
The illustrations contain all sorts of Baker tributes. In one, a young Baker watches basketball on television. The player on the screen wears a crimson and blue jersey, and his number is 10. Kirk Hinrich, who was No. 10 for the University of Kansas Jayhawks from 1999 to 2003, was Baker’s childhood hero. Ladwig also was sure to include Baker’s big curly high-school hair on illustrations of him from his teen years.
Baker also requested that his childhood friend, Kaleb Roemer, be included in the book. Another illustration depicts Baker’s early days playing basketball, and he’s sitting on the bench next to a teammate meant to be Roemer.
“He’s a pretty comical kid,” Baker said with a laugh. “He was pretty excited about it. I mentioned to him I was going to have a book, and he was like, ‘Well, am I going to be in it?’ And I said, ‘Of course. Come on now.’”
Mom and Dad
The book also has illustrations depicting Ron’s father, Neil, and his mother, Ranae, a longtime teacher who also wrote the foreword for the book. Ladwig painted a comical picture of a pregnant Ranae getting a sonogram and seeing that her baby was holding a basketball in utero.
“I wasn’t a big reader when I was a kid, so being a part of a book wasn’t something I thought I’d do, “Baker said. “But going through life and being in this position, obviously I’m very thankful, and and it means a lot to my mom, who’s been in education for over 20 years. It’s one of the biggest reasons I went through with this whole deal is mainly for her. That hard copy book is going to be around forever, and that’s pretty important.”
The first run of “You’re Too Big to Dream Small” is 6,000 copies, all of which Baker will sign. He said he’s looking forward to getting back home for the signings and hopes to draw big crowds.
Signing his name 6,000 times will be no biggie, he insisted.
“I’m getting kind of used to signing my name.”
Ron Baker book signings
Baker will sign the first run of his book, which is 6,000 copies. Those interested are encouraged to order advance copies online that they can pick up at the signings. If any are left, they’ll be available at the signings.
Books are $19.95 and are available now for pre-order at www.bakersbook.com (Be sure to include the ‘s’ after Baker or you will land on another site). Pre-order customers will go to the front of the autograph line.
Here’s the book signing schedule
▪ 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3: El Dorado High School, 401 McCollum Road, El Dorado
▪ 4-7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 3: Kansas Cosmosphere, 1100 N. Plum, Hutchinson. Admission free to see Baker, and those who do will get a free pass to the Hall of Space.
▪ 1-4 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4: Scott Community High School, 712 Main St., Scott City
▪ 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5, Exploration Place, 300 N. McLean, Wichita. Admission free to see Baker, $5 admission that day to see museum exhibits.