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Wings Academy’s Baker flies under the radar

An anomaly, Baker doesn’t travel for AAU tournaments, preferring to spend his summers lifting weights and running wind sprints in stinky and stuffy gyms instead of glitzy arenas across the country. He avoids the spotlight, leaving it for teammates. He is an arduous worker, the first to arrive for practice and last to leave.

“He would rather go to the gym,” teammate Drimir Ferguson said, “than go to a party.”

It is why Baker is Wings Academy’s go-to guy, a muscular 6-foot-2 combo guard, who can light it up from the perimeter and wreak havoc in the lane. He scored 32 points in the Wings’ 88-59 blowout of St. Peter’s on Saturday in Big Apple Basketball’s PSAL-CHSAA Challenge at Carnesecca Arena on the campus St. John’s University. Baker caught fire in the third quarter, raining in four 3-pointers and finishing the period with 17 points.

The breakout performance was nothing new to Wings coach Billy Turnage. He has seen that explosive tendency in Baker for a while. But to college coaches in attendance, it was pretty new.

In an age where the summer is almost as important, if not more so than the winter, Baker is an unknown commodity. He used to play AAU basketball with the Bingo All-Stars, but when that program fell apart he never picked up with another organization. Turnage said he thinks the upperclassman prefers a team setting; he isn’t an individual. But Baker doesn’t have an answer. He just smiles, pleading ignorance. He has thought about playing in recent years, but never did.

“There’s no reason,” he said. “It’s funny.”

Baker admits to frustration when he sees players lesser than him in skill and stature have Division I scholarships or who are receiving more interest. He knows it is because of the AAU circuit. But he also lets his work do the talking.

“I try not to think about it too much,” he said. “I try to relax and play ball.”

Turnage, his coach, will promote him. He called out any and all Division I coaches that have overlooked his burgeoning star. Baker has received interest from LIU, Quinnipiac and Manhattan, a short list, Turnage said, that should be much longer for a player he called the biggest sleeper in this year’s senior class in the five boroughs.

Turnage acknowledged that Baker’s lack of exposure during the summer is the reason he has yet to be offered a scholarship. In the same breath, however, he said the multi-talented Baker, “should be signed regardless.”

For now, the Bronx native is willing to wait. He has a basketball season on his mind. As a freshman, he was part of the 31-1 Wings, a program that was nationally ranked but lost to Grady in the PSAL semifinals. As a sophomore, he made an impact on another final four club, averaging 14 points. This is his last chance – to earn a scholarship and win a city championship.

So far, he is taking full advantage, averaging 20 points per game in league play and garnering MVP honors on Saturday. On a team full of scorers, like juniors Dashaun Wiggins, Krystian Foriest and Mike Buffalo, he is the Wings’ “go-to scorer,” Ferguson said.

Baker doesn’t consider himself that important. But that is his personality. He just wants to play basketball. As for college, he refused to criticize anyone for not taking a look at him.

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