April 26, 2012

Baker to top of world

Kevin McCarthy

It's about 30 miles distance and 30 minutes of driving between Fairfield and Pleasant Hill. Ronnie Baker came out of Rodriguez High a couple of years ago and made that transition, signing up for a two-year term with Diablo Valley College (DVC) Coach Steve Coccimiglio. As for his next journey, well, that's going to be a bit further.

photo of Ronnie Baker

In 27 games this past season, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Baker averaged 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, plus 62 assists and a team-leading 60 steals. All this for a 24-6 squad that took down Chabot College before falling to eventual state champion Fresno City College in the state playoffs. He was named to the All Big Eight Conference team.

With such on his résumé, Baker captured the attention of former longtime Montana State Coach Mick Durham and is now going to star in a basketball remake of "Nanook of the North" with the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) of the Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC). Western Washington, which won the D-II national title this season, is a member.

Durham coached for 16 seasons at Montana State, retired, then emerged to assist for three more at New Mexico State. The Nanook job opened up and he landed it for the 2011-12 go-around. After a 5-23 first year, he's looking for a talent upgrade in what is really his first full recruiting period.

So what is he getting with this signing?

According to Baker, "An all-around player, an offensive scorer, a defensive juggernaut, experience and great leadership."

Coccimiglio offered, "Durham has a real leader in Ronnie Baker. If I could build a model on and off the court, it would be Ronnie. He was a captain this season, we went 50-11 during his time here, he's very competitive and a really solid student."

About the latter subject, Baker said, "as much as I am determined on the court, I am also as determined, if not more determined, in the classroom." He has maintained a 3.0 grade point average at DVC.

Why the Nanooks?

"I chose Alaska Fairbanks because it was a good fit for me," Baker explained. "I wanted to get away from California and be part of the rebuilding." He obviously met with the coaches and returning players on his visit north but also academic counselors at the schools plus other students. This gave him a good feel for the basis of his decision.

Plus, UAF features a major in exactly what Baker was looking for -- petroleum engineering. "Gas and oil make the world go around," Baker stated, indicating a real world sense regarding employment as a post graduate.

Something that made this come to fruition was Baker elevating his game through a jaw-dropping workout routine last summer.

"I would work out four times a day," said Baker. "Twice with Coach [Derrick] Jones, plus in the weight room and then doing conditioning. I thought it was between getting a job or taking basketball seriously, so I went all in."

He also upped his leadership quotient.

"My first year, I was learning from the older guys. This season, I took on some of those responsibilities. I first lead by example but I can put my foot down. But it helps to play as well as you talk before becoming vocal."

So why did Baker select Diablo Valley College to begin his college basketball journey?

One of his best friends, Doug Daniels, attended DVC earlier and "I was deciding whether to stay close or go far away and DVC was in between. And Coach has won a lot of games and hung a lot of banners."

Asked about his biggest influence, Baker responded with "my father, he has been a great support system, as has my entire family." Baker also wanted to thank Coach Jones, calling him "my mentor."

But before he hits the North Slope with degree in hand, "I see myself getting paid playing overseas."