By PAUL SUELLENTROP
The Wichita Eagle
WICHITA (MCT) — One of Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall's theories is that practicing point guard makes everybody a better player, regardless of position.
Redshirt freshman Ron Baker, of Scott City, is the latest to put that theory to the test. Normally a shooting guard, injuries pressed Baker into emergency duty at the point in recent practices. He showed enough aptitude that Marshall can envision using him in that role on rare occasions, as he did Toure Murry, in the future. More immediately, the experience helped Baker expand his game and his understanding of how Marshall wants his team to operate.
WSU played its lone exhibition game on Monday against Pittsburg State and Baker saw plenty of playing time on the wing. With Demetric Williams and Fred VanVleet both sidelined by ankle injuries recently and both expected to play point guard, Baker will take his new perspective to his old position.
"When you run the (point), you see the floor differently," Baker said. "As the point guard you have the responsibility to get your team going and run the right set. You've got to be a vocal leader."
Marshall waited until Monday to set his starting lineup. Senior forward Carl Hall and senior guard Malcolm Armstead started, along with Baker, Evan Wessel and Ehimen Orukpe. Marshall expected Williams and VanVleet to play. Newcomer Chadrack Lufile, a junior post player, is out with a knee injury that comes on top of a dislocated shoulder that sidelined him until recently.
"(Baker) can do a lot of things," Marshall said. "He can defend. He can knock down open shots. He can pass it a little bit. He's athletic, big."
Baker, 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, came to WSU as a walk-on last year with the plan to redshirt and then receive a scholarship for his final four seasons.
Baker had 17 points in the 100-56 win over the Gorillas, including the free throw that gave the Shockers their 100th point. He added six rebounds and went 2-for-5 from 3-point range.
Sitting out tested Baker's patience after a high school career with the Beavers in which he rarely rested. In addtion to basketball, he played quarterback/defensive back in football, shortstop and pitched.
"For my parents to see me on the bench all game, I'm sure it was tough on them," he said. "I'm definitely planning on it to pay off this year and the years to come."
Marshall made redshirting a bit easier when he told people Baker's talents made it a tough decision. Baker wanted to redshirt to take time to develop, and because playing time didn't exist behind Murry, Williams, David Kyles and others. Practicing against those experienced Shockers helped.
"Last year, there were times I was kind of Bambi out there," he said. "The game has slowed down. I'm seeing the floor better, making better passes. I wasn't going to play, but I knew I could get better."
Baker also experienced the travel and the road arenas.
"I'm prepared for all their chants," he said. "I shouldn't have as many jitters (as a true freshman)."
Baker enjoyed one of the best prep careers in southwest Kansas in many years. He hit the game-winning shot in the Class 3A state championship game against Minneapolis. He was The Garden City Telegram's Player of the Year in both football and basketball his senior year. He was a Top 5 selection the same year by The Wichita Eagle and Topeka Capital-Journal.
Marshall picked his starters from a group that included Baker, Williams, center Orukpe, forward Cleanthony Early, forward Jake White and Wessel.
"A lot of these guys will be playing in front of the biggest crowd they've ever played in front of," Marshall said. "I'd like to see us really defend and rebound and execute our offense."
Worth noting — Marshall considers Williams and VanVleet slowed by their ankle injuries. Freshman Zach Bush, who will redshirt, looks 100 percent after also dealing with a sprained ankle. Bush, and all new Shockers except transfer Kadeem Coleby, can play without burning a redshirt season. Pittsburg State is picked fourth in the MIAA coaches poll after going 17-14 last season. The Gorillas return four players with starting experience, including leading scorer JaVon McGee (13 points, 6.7 rebounds). South product Marky Nolen averaged 8.2 points and started 14 games. Gorillas coach Kevin Muff, starting his third season, played at Kansas State from 1984-86. He coached Cloud County Community College for 12 seasons before coming to Pitt State.
Wichita State opens its regular sseason Saturday at 7 p.m., hosting North Carolina Central, then travel to Richmond, Va. to face VCU on Nov. 13.