SANTA CRUZ – He’s a basketball record holder, an active player, counselor and coach, and he’s worked in nearly a dozen countries. Yet you likely don’t recognize the name Maurice Baker (or Mo), despite the fact he’s logged NBA minutes.
Baker’s professional basketball career began in 2002 when the point guard went undrafted out of Oklahoma State and signed with BC Avtodor Saratov in Russia. After a brief stint, he played for clubs in Syria and Mexico before joining the Dakota Wizards in 2004.
At the time the Wizards competed in the (now defunct) Continental Basketball Association, but that didn’t stop Baker in 2005 from getting call-ups with the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers. He failed to score a point in five appearances, but little did he know his hoops journey was merely beginning.
Baker came back to Dakota and received an offer to play in Lithuania in 2006. Months later the CBA All-Star returned to the Wizards, which now belonged to the NBA D-League, and as a starter his team won the championship.
During the 2007-08 season Baker produced his finest statline as a pro, averaging 18.2 points, 4.6 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals in 40 minutes a contest. The journeyman signed with Paris-Levallois of France midway through the campaign, and he rejoined Dakota in the fall for the 2008-09 schedule. Baker continued his pattern of working for the Wizards and playing overseas in locales such as Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic until fall 2012, when the Wizards moved to Santa Cruz and the point man stayed in the states for good.
The Santa Cruz Warriors relegated Baker to a reserve role the past two seasons, but his presence as an instructor and locker room shrink has been instrumental in back-to-back finals appearances.
“Mo Baker is really good at when a new guy comes in, or guys go up, he keeps the team focused on the right thing, and that really helps us,” head coach Casey Hill told Sports Out West before the playoffs.
It speaks to Baker’s value how the Wizards/Warriors organization continued to bring him back in spite of his will to play elsewhere. Of course, the eight-year D-League veteran eventually realized this was his home all along.
“First class organization back in Dakota,” Baker reflected. “Some of those guys still work with the Warriors, so it was hands-on and it felt like the same family.”
Living in Santa Cruz has also opened his eyes to the world around him.
“A man was riding his dog on the handlebars of a bike. That’s the strangest thing I’ve seen.”
Baker owns the D-League records for most career games (319), minutes played (9,838), defensive rebounds (1,224!), steals (430) and personal fouls (907). He also ranks third all-time in assists (1,435) and turnovers (700). At 34-years-old, Baker’s burst off the dribble is nonexistent, and he shot a career-low 16.7 percent from deep in 13 minutes a game, but the 6-foot-1, 175 pounder remains a steady hand with the ball and an aggressive board-crasher and perimeter defender.
“I feel good. Every day you have your aches and pains as a basketball player, getting up, running and all that…but I feel good.”
The Illinois native hopes to stretch his playing career another two to three years, when he’ll try to latch on in college or the pros as a full-time assistant coach.
“I’m getting up in age, so there’s another side of basketball, the coaching side.”
“All around. I know a lot of schemes on offense and defense , so it’ll depend on what the head coach wants me to do.”
A staff could do worse than hire a mind taught by Mike Dunleavy Sr., Maurice Cheeks, Dave Joerger and others. Baker’s coaching career will probably gain him more acclaim than his on-floor efforts, but those who witnessed his game in person will always remember the heroic D-League figure.
Photo Credit: Goerie.com