ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla watched enough of Ron Baker over the years to grow into a big fan of Wichita State’s shooting guard.
Watching practices and five games in last week’s Pan Am Games added to Fraschilla’s admiration.
Baker started every game for the United States and averaged 8.2 points on the way to a third-place finish. Baker, like most of the seven college players on the team, finished strong after an adjusting to FIBA’s physical style and different rules.
“If he’s not first- or second-team All-American, I don’t know basketball,” Fraschilla said Sunday after providing analysis in Toronto for ESPN’s broadcasts. “He was impressive. The competition level is higher than the NCAA. It’s a very physical brand of basketball. That Brazil team would have beaten our NCAA champion by 30 points.”
Baker, a 6-foot-4 senior, scored 11 points in Saturday’s bronze-medal win over the Dominican Republic and 15 in Friday’s semifinal loss to Canada. In those two games, he made 8 of 13 shots, 4 of 7 from three-point range with five steals and five assists. Team USA went 3-2 in Toronto, losing to first-place Brazil in pool play.
“The guy is Rambo,” Fraschilla said. “He plays fearlessly. He went toe-to-toe with some physical, grown men who know how to play the game and he really helped Team USA. He, arguably, was the best collegian. Most of them got better as the week went on, but he showed the most growth.”
In five games, Baker made 13 of 26 shots, 5 of 14 from behind the FIBA three-point line, which is 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches as compared to the 20-9 college distance. He made all 10 of his free throws and added 12 rebounds, seven assists, with one turnover, and a team-leading seven steals.
While the national teams weren’t filled with all the top players, the level of competition and the physical style pushed Team USA’s college players.
“These were good players who all played at a higher-than-NCAA level,” Fraschilla said. “He got more comfortable with the FIBA style. NCAA basketball is not nearly as physical as FIBA basketball. NBA basketball is not as physical as FIBA basketball. They let you get away with a lot more contact. It’s kind of a shock when you first try to cut off a screen and some guy is grabbing your arm.”
By the end of the Pan Am Games, Baker looked adept playing against older, more experienced athletes.
“He’s not afraid to give it right back,” Fraschilla said. “He adjusted really well and really was suited for the FIBA game.”