This article originally appeared in the the Nov. 9, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
When Team USA took a mix of pros and collegians to last summer’s Pan-Am Games in Toronto, the top-performing amateur—and one of its best players, period—was Shockers senior guard Ron Baker. While potential player-of-the-year candidates such as Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine were relegated to lesser backcourt roles, Baker earned the most minutes of any collegian (24.2 per game) with his efficient offense (50.0% shooting and just one turnover in five games) and aggressive defense (a team-high seven steals).
The 6'4", 210-pound Baker is a guard for all situations. At Wichita State, “Ron is the starting two, backup one and he can also play some three,” says coach Gregg Marshall, “and he knows our system from all those positions like the back of his hand.” Plus, when the Shockers’ offense goes into ball-screen mode late in the shot clock—a scenario that should arise even more frequently this season with the clock shrinking to 30 seconds—Baker is a formidable weapon. As a junior he ranked second nationally in jump-shot efficiency off of ball screens, averaging 1.48 points over 48 possessions. And point guard Fred VanVleet is pushing Baker to get more touches in the mid-post, where he can isolate against less complete guards—which, at this point of Baker’s career, describes nearly all of his opponents.
Tom (Bush) Wamukota, 6'11" senior center
If Wamukota can play extended minutes at center, the Shockers can go bigger, with 6'8" transfer Anton Grady at power forward. If not, look for 6'4" Evan Wessel to start at the four and Grady at the five.
“We have a lot of lineup options. I could play Fred VanVleet, [Kansas transfer] Connor Frankamp, Ron Baker and Evan Wessel as the 1-2-3-4, and we’d be really small, but boy, could we shoot it. ... Wessel is the toughest dude in college basketball. If a loose ball gets to head level or below, his odds of getting it aren’'t 50-50, they’re 90-10. ... When Grady was choosing to come here [from Cleveland State], he told me, 'I want to go somewhere where they don’t just talk about going to the NCAA tournament, they talk about winning the NCAA tournament.’ That's what he liked about us.”