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Kavon Baker
Kavon Baker is averaging 19.8 points per game, a few years after being unable to make the team at Brooklyn.
Brooklyn athletics photo

Kavon Baker showed up to practice on Tuesday admittedly tired. The night before he played all 40 minutes in Brooklyn College’s first win of the season.

Trailing by four points with 9:01 left in the game, Baker pulled his teammates together and reminded them: “we don’t take plays off. We play every possession.”

Baker, now a senior, is driven. He remembers the days he would show up to the gym and watch from the stands.

In 2009, Baker transferred from Kingsborough College to Brooklyn after his freshman year in which his team won a junior college crown, with the idea that he would be able to contribute.

But Brooklyn was coming off a championship of its own. “We were returning most of the same players. Our need had always been size. We were guard-loaded,” coach Steve Podias said.

“You’re running up against a stacked deck,” Podias said to Baker before the tryouts.

Baker tried out anyway, and was cut. He watched the rest of the 22-win season from the stands.

“Sometimes it was embarrassing, walking into the game knowing I should have been a part of it,” Baker said. “But, it also kept me grounded to know that I could play with them.”

Baker never thought about giving up on basketball. He did however, mull over transferring to York (N.Y.), the only other CUNY school with a physical education program.

But Baker decided he wanted to succeed in his hometown of Brooklyn, he wanted to redeem himself.

“So, I was in the gym six days a week. I was working really hard, and staying on top of coach,” Baker said.

“We had a lot of talks in my office,” Podias said. “[Baker] is an upfront person, he tells you exactly what he plans on doing.

One visit Podias remembers vividly. Baker walked into Podias’ office and said, “Coach, there are three things I want you to know: I am going to make this team, I am going to help this team win, and you are going to have a fellow Knick fan with you at all times.”

He had to work on his game, though. A natural lefty, Baker did not have complete command of his right hand dribbling, and struggled to create his own shot. He was also tentative to go to the basket.

“In a year, he went from a pretty good ball handler who could shoot and slash a little bit, to someone who could play all over the place,” Podias said.

After working on his right hand, Baker is now capable of playing every position on the floor except center, he makes good passes, and he is an excellent free throw shooter.

Baker doesn’t beat you on the first step though, just like he didn’t make the team on his first try. He wins with perseverance. 

“The feeling of disappointment is what drove me every day,” Baker said. That is what drove him to wake up at 7 a.m., shoot and run and lift before class. That is what made him attend the games, and then watch tape to see what he could offer the championship team that they did not have.

“Work ethic all comes down to ‘how bad do you want it,’ ” Baker said. When he first came here Baker wanted to be a part of a championship team, and he wanted to be a part of this. But it came down to just how badly.

This year Baker is averaging 19.8 points (the most on the team) 4.8 assists, and 4 rebounds per contest. He has long arms that work well in Brooklyn’s press defense, and has snatched 14 steals through just five games.

At 6-3, Baker can play on a lot of mismatches. “I’ll play him at small forward, and he can beat whoever is guarding him off the dribble. At shooting guard, he can shoot over most defenders,” Podias said.

The senior captain has also taken players under his wing. Baker spends a lot of time with the eight underclassmen, and is a volunteer assistant coach at Midwood High School, his alma mater.

“For some reason I have always liked coaching more than playing,” Baker said. After he graduates, Baker would like to coach a team of his own.

But for now, Baker is focused on how he can lead his team to a ring. “I don’t want to leave here without anything to show for what I have been through,” Baker said.

He wants it very badly.

Top 25

Men: No. 9 Scranton is 5-0 for the first time since 1997-98. Sophomore guard Ross Danzig leads the Royals, averaging 21 points per game. No. 12 Catholic was upset by DeSales 76-66 Wednesday and dropped to 5-1. Senior Chris Kearney was named the Landmark Conference player of the week averaging 20.3 points on 62% shooting and grabbed 18 rebounds in No. 14 CUA’s three wins last week. No. 13 Ramapo rallied from behind and defeated Rutgers-Camden last Saturday 79-71 to improve to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the NJAC. No. 24 St. Mary’s improved to 5-1 as they outscored Medgar Evers on Monday by 23 and 22 points in the first and second halves en route to a 83-38 victory.

Women: No. 8 Messiah rolled to 6-0 on the year, and 3-0 in the Commonwealth with a dominant 72-39 win over Hood Wednesday. Dori Gyori scored a season-high 24 points in the win. No. 13 Lebanon Valley improved to 6-1 with a 66-50 victory over Arcadia Wednesday night. Renee Fritz led the team with 12 points and 9 rebounds. No. 14 York (Pa) improved to 7-0 overall Tuesday with a 67-41 win over Franklin & Marshall. Brittany Hicks scored a game-high 24 points, and Aja Wallpher had a game-high 8 assists. No. 21 Scranton fell to 6-1 with a 75-67 loss to Wilkes Wednesday night. Meredith Mesaris had 30 points and 12 rebounds in the loss. No. 25 Mary Washington dropped to 6-2 on the season in a last second, 56-54 loss to Eastern Mennonite Tuesday. 

Don’t ever give up

Last week, was Jimmy V Week on ESPN. Jim Valvano, his story, and his speech are bigger than basketball. But they also have roots in Division III.

In 1969, Jim Valvano was the head coach of Johns Hopkins, then of the Middle Atlantic Conference. Valvano went on to coach for 18 more years at Bucknell, Iona, and NC State with a 346-210 overall record before he resigned in 1990. His brother, Bob Valvano, coached at Catholic and St. Mary’s (Md.) in Division III and is now an ESPN basketball analyst and radio host.

In 1992, two months before died of bone cancer, Valvano received the first-annual Arthur Ashe award for courage and delivered his legendary ESPY’s speech.

He spoke about the importance of remembering where you started, where you are and where you are going to be. “You need to have a dream, a goal. You have to be willing to work for it,” Valvano told the audience.

He encouraged everyone to keep their dreams alive despite of problems, and to be able to work hard to make dreams become a reality. “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,” Valvano said.

Find out more about the V Foundation on their website: http://www.jimmyv.org/index.php.

Contact me

Please reach out to me with comments, questions or story ideas. I’m constantly on the hunt to find what makes D3 basketball so great. Follow me on twitter @PeteBarrettJr.

Ryan Scott

Ryan Scott is a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College and is immensely happy this is no longer a laugh line among the D-III basketball community.
2013-14 columnist: Rob Knox
2012-13 columnist: Pete Barrett
2011-12 columnist: Brian Lester