Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

February 6, 2014

Baker emerges as leader for Neoga

Indians' senior tops 1,000 points

Ryan Czachorski
Effingham Daily News

NEOGA — Under new coach Bob Lockart, Jake Baker has had to handle less of the scoring load for the Neoga Indians, and his coach is proud of the improvements to his all-around game.

Despite averaging nearly three fewer points per contest this season, Baker hit a career milestone Saturday for Neoga, scoring his 1,000th career point in an NTC tournament game against Dieterich.

Lockart said the team has benefited from having Baker, in more ways than just as a scorer.

"He comes every day, works at it," Lockart said. "He's improved defensively, rebounding the ball, of course."

For Baker, a senior who is averaging 13.7 points per game in 2014, down from 16.9 as a junior, he was conflicted about what it meant.

"I guess it doesn't mean that much, it shows I can score, and that's about it," he said. "I'm proud of it."

He reached the milestone during the third quarter of the third-place game against Dieterich, tearing off nine quick points and hitting the milestone on a 3-pointer near the end of the quarter.

Baker becomes the first Indian to reach the 1,000 point milestone since T.J. Roy accomplished the feat in 2012, part of a stellar season for Neoga.

That was Baker's first season as a starter, and he can point back to that sophomore season to show how he's become a different player as a senior.

"I've changed a lot," he said. "I'm more of a leader. Leadership's a lot more important than scoring. I'm talking to everybody, chewing people out, talking to refs."

The leadership was something Lockart noticed as well, but realized that his senior star went about it in his own way.

"He's just that good natured kid that leads by example, instead of the vocal thing," Lockart said. "The rest of the team enjoys playing with him, and respects him."

The Indians struggled out of the gate, but played some of their best basketball of the season at the NTC tournament last week, pushing top-seeded St. Anthony and third-seeded Dieterich to the wire.

They sit at 9-13 on the season, and with Baker's time as an Indian and on the basketball court for his career winding down, he has the same goal as many of his cohorts who hit 1,000 points last week.

"Win regionals, get as far as we can," he said. "That's about it."