Somehow, getting his driver’s license when he turned 16 is now merely the second best birthday present Wichita State guard Ron Baker has received.
That pales in comparison to the dream 20th birthday party Baker experienced Saturday in Los Angeles.
He started in an Elite Eight game as a redshirt freshman for Wichita State. He climbed a ladder and cut down a strand of net after the Shockers upset heavily favored Ohio State to advance to the Final Four. And hundreds of fans who made the trip from Wichita serenaded him during the postgame revelry while the school’s pep band played “Happy Birthday” in his honor.
“By far the best birthday a 20-year-old can imagine,” Baker said. “It doesn’t get better than this.”
If Wichita State’s roster of castoffs and overlooked recruits is especially appreciative of its improbable Final Four run, then it’s safe to say Baker may be the most thankful of all the Shockers to be playing in Atlanta. Very few Division I coaches saw him play in high school since he grew up in a town of 4,000 in rural Kansas, so Baker actually paid his own way to attend Wichita State last year before earning a scholarship this season.
Since returning from a stress fracture in his left foot just in time for the Missouri Valley tournament last month, Baker’s relentless effort and accurate perimeter shooting has been instrumental in Wichita State’s success. The 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman torched top-seeded Gonzaga for 16 points and four 3-pointers in the round of 32, lit up La Salle for 13 points five nights later and sank all nine of his free throws in the Final Four-clinching win over the Buckeyes on Saturday.