Rotary Classic Boys Basketball: Osseo star electrifying, but all about team
Osseo shooting guard Wheeler Baker went off for 41 points on Friday night against Robbinsdale Armstrong. It was in a losing effort to No. 7-ranked Armstrong, but there was nothing losing about the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Baker's effort.
Osseo shooting guard Wheeler Baker went off for 41 points on Friday night against Robbinsdale Armstrong.
It was in a losing effort to No. 7-ranked Armstrong, but there was nothing losing about the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Baker's effort.
It's been there all season long, both as a player and a leader.
"Wheeler is a very personable kid," said Osseo coach Tim Theisen, whose sixth-ranked Orioles will be in their late-December home-away-from-home today-Saturday, playing in the Rochester Rotary/US Bank Holiday Classic and spending their nights at the Kahler Hotel for the third time in four years.
"Wheeler is someone who gets our players involved," Theisen said. "Our kids really respect him."
Baker — considered one of the top guards in the state and headed to Division I University of Albany (N.Y) next fall on scholarship — relishes his new role. Not only is he being asked to be more dynamic than ever on the floor, but he's acting as the team's go-to leader.
The latter has evolved over the years, and has mirrored the sharp-shooter's development as a player.
"I've tried to expand my game in terms of passing the ball, scoring and being a leader," said Baker, who averages 25 points per game and is a team captain. "I'm more comfortable now being the focal point and making sure everyone knows their role. I'm a leader this year, and I love people looking up to me and drawing off my energy."
Baker began his high school days at Class AAA power DeLaSalle. But he transferred the next year, landing at Osseo.
He immediately fell in love with the school and its basketball program.
"I love Osseo," Baker said. "There is a great sense of community here. It's more than just basketball. It feels like we're a big family."
In terms of basketball, the head of that family is clearly Theisen. Baker has huge appreciation for his skills both as a coach and a leader.
"Theisen is the best coach I've ever had," said Baker, who's in his second year as a starter. "He does a great job of connecting with players and getting the best from every individual."
Theisen is getting plenty from Baker. After averaging 15 points per game last year, and used mostly as an outside marksman, Baker has increased that by 10 points this season. Theisen says he can also be a shut-down defender.
Baker has upped his offense by vastly improving his ballhandling, which has allowed him to better get to the basket. He spent much of his summer dribbling around his northeastern Minneapolis neighborhood, usually with his left hand, which needed work.
"I got some funny looks a couple of times," Baker said. "But I wasn't worried about that. Whatever it takes to get better."
No doubt, Baker has done that.
"He's always been a good scorer, but he's improved every year," said Theisen, whose team has won the Rotary title two of the last three years (it wasn't entered last season), and is favored to win it again. "Last year he added the element of putting on a display with his dunks. Now he can finish in the lane, shoot over people, and pull up and hit jumpers. He's an electrifying player."
Being a great individual talent isn't enough for Baker, though. For him, it's all about his team. It's an Osseo collection that he believes can play with anyone in the state.
The Orioles enter the tournament 6-3, with close losses to ranked teams Champlin Park, DeLaSalle and Armstrong.
Baker said he believes his guys are just skimming the surface as to what they can be. He sees it as his job to help them realize that potential.
"My personal goal is to do whatever I can to help us win games," he said. "If I'm in the running for Mr. Basketball and things like that, that's great. But my real goal is to win a state championship."