As a kid, Ron Baker didn’t understand why his father wanted to dwell on the negative parts of his performance after a basketball game.
“It didn’t matter if you scored 30 that night,” said Wichita State’s junior guard from Scott City. “He’d tell you ‘Good game,’ but he’d still bring up the things you needed to work on, or the things he wasn’t happy about, and talk about those the most.”
Did it bug him?
“There were times it did, but later on I kinda looked back at it as the right thing to do,” Baker said. “It obviously made me who I am today.”
Today, Baker is part of Wichita State’s dynamic backcourt duo with Fred Van Vleet, two leaders on a Shocker men’s team that won every game it played last season until a two-point loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
He also shares with Van Vleet a background of growing up under the supervision of a father who provided tough love.
The Eagle talked to some other Shocker players for Father’s Day, and the same theme emerged. Their fathers were there for them. Not always with a smile, but always there.
Neil Baker was big on discipline and respect for the rules, said his son.
“He always taught me actions speak louder than words, never have bad body language, always keep your chest high, act your age, be responsible, little things like that,” Ron Baker said.
And if you didn’t do what you were told, if you didn’t act the way you were supposed to act, there were always consequences, like more chores on the farm, Baker said.
“When you get older, you start realizing that why he’s so hard on you is because he wanted the best for you,” Baker said.
Van Vleet, Wichita State’s junior point guard from Rockville, Ill., lost his biological father to murder at age 5. Enter Joe Danforth, former boxer, an Army veteran and a cop.
Van Vleet didn’t like that at first. He was used to the family the way it was, with his mom, Sue, and brother, Darnell. When Danforth joined the family about five years after his father died, Van Vleet resisted the relationship.
“It was a big adjustment in the beginning. We had our differences,” Van Vleet said.
Danforth, who coached Van Vleet in middle school, was tough and demanding. But he also brought stability and love to Fred and the family.
“It took me awhile to see him as a father,” Van Vleet said, “ but now we got a great relationship.”
Evan Wessel, a junior guard from Wichita, never wanted to disappoint his father, Todd, a former Shocker football player who coached him in youth sports.
“He was always wanting me to be my best and to push me to always to do better, whether that was in school or in grades,” Evan Wessel said. “At the same time he was always there for love and support.”
“I think I get a lot of competitiveness from my dad. I think we butt heads, but we have a great relationship.”
Todd Wessel was there with advice during the last season as Evan struggled to find his shot. He told his son there were other parts of the game he could focus on, like defense and rebounding, Evan Wessel said.
Those were things he could do right away while his shot remained elusive.
“That’s the big help that he instilled in me,” Wessel said. “I was struggling offensively, but I just found another way I could help the team and I think that’s what got me on the court.”
Ria’n Holland was a redshirt freshman last year, a 6-foot guard from Hope Mills, N.C. He can’t wait to play this year because he knows he is ready. He thinks about how his father, Robert, prepared him as a long-range shooter by holding a rake up in the air in front of him and making him shoot the ball in a high arc toward the basket at home. He’d also make Ria’n take 500 shots a day.
Something worked, because Ria’n Holland won an all-star three-point contest as a senior at South View High School, and set the school three-point record.
His father was a high school football player, not a basketball player, but he knew what he was doing with his son, Ria’n Holland said. And his work with Ria’n extended beyond the game.
“He always talked about owning up to your mistakes and trying to keep your head up and don’t let the outside world get to you,” Ria’n Holland said.
Corey Henderson Jr., an entering freshman at WSU, played point guard for his father in high school at the Episcopal School of Dallas. It wasn’t always fun.
Henderson’s father, who had played basketball at Texas A&M and professionally in Australia, started coaching him as a freshman, and it was an adjustment for both of them. His dad was tough on him, harder on him than other players, Corey Henderson Jr. said.
At first, what happened on the court would carry over when they went home. They both had to learn to leave basketball in the gym, he said.
But Henderson said his father taught him how to carry himself and how to communicate with people.
His dad, who earned academic honors in college and is ESD’s admissions and outreach coordinator, never missed an opportunity to toss out life lessons, whether they were out at an event or just watching television at home.
“He’s a great role model,” Corey Henderson, Jr. said. “He leads by example and is a great guy to follow.”