Watching the Virginia offense last Saturday was painful.
With the top two scorers on the team, Mike Scott and Sylven Landesberg, riding the pine with two fouls each, the Cavaliers needed other players to step up and keep them in the game against Wake Forest.
Well, one of the likely candidates was not on the court, in fact he was not even in Winston-Salem. Senior guard and co-captain Calvin Baker was at home in Charlottesville, essentially banished from the game by Virginia coach Tony Bennett.
Baker has certainly not had the senior year he imagined—injuries and inconsistency have cost the William & Mary transfer his starting spot on the roster to true freshman, Jontel Evans.
Baker was clearly upset and according to reports was apparently a little too vocal with his disagreement over the roster decision. Coach Bennett sat Baker down, not even allowing the combo guard to practice last week, but has officially re-instated the young man back to the team as the Cavaliers prepare for their biggest game in the past few years when they take on Virginia Tech this Thursday.
Suffice it to say, Virginia will need contributions from Baker this season if the Cavaliers are going to continue to surprise people in the ACC. The truth is, "surprising" pretty much sums up Baker's entire career in the orange and blue.
Baker turned heads pretty quickly in Charlottesville, when former coach Dave Leitao announced the CAA Rookie of the Year was transferring to play at Virginia. The move was certainly unexpected and it forced Baker to sit out a year as he waited for his opportunity.
It turned out to be quite the season to be a spectator, behind the dynamic guard tandem of J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary, the Cavaliers went 11-5 in the ACC and made it to their first NCAA tournament since 2001. Baker watched and had to be excited about his chance to help build something special at Virginia.
Unfortunately, Baker's debut season saw the Cavaliers go from the top of the ACC to the cellar with close losses in seemingly every conference game. Baker averaged just over eight points per game but provided some clutch shots for Virginia when the situation called for it.
With Singletary triple covered, it was Baker who provided the dagger three-pointer to take down Georgia Tech on the road as part of a 10-point, seven-rebound, and four-steal performance. Against Boston College, Baker provided the final four free throws to seal the deal and secure the win.
In Virginia's five ACC victories that season, Baker provided some critical shots but he also brought headaches for Cavalier fans.
In his junior year, with an extremely young team around him, the pressure was on Baker to be a leader. After a meager 10-win campaign, it seemed that the guard was only leading Virginia to mediocrity.
For all the talent Baker possesses, he has yet to emerge as that heir apparent to Singletary's throne we all wished he could be. Despite his big shots, Baker's trigger-happy mentality has cost Virginia in the past, particularly on the fast break.
Guards have to have a strong sense of basketball IQ, they have to be able to see the floor, and Baker still tends to make three or four egregious errors per game. Last season, forced into the point guard position after Singletary's departure, Baker had 79 assists and 70 turnovers. Those numbers will not win you many games.
In truth, the combo guard simply cannot find prosperity at the one or the two. He is simply not a good enough of a decision maker and ball handler to be a true point guard and his awkward shot angle makes him an inconsistent shooting guard.
As a result, Baker has become symbolic of Virginia over these past few seasons. His brief moments of glory have been overshadowed by frustration and confusion in humbling losses.
Adding injury to insult, Baker suffered through knee troubles that limited his offseason and may have added to his sporadic shooting this season. Despite improving his assist-to-turnover ratio, Baker is shooting only 23 percent from behind the arc. Combine that with an athletic freshman who plays better defense and you have the ugly situation we're in now.
Certainly, Baker's senior year has not gone the way he imagined. The Cavaliers are doing surprisingly well in January, but that has been more of in spite of than because of Baker.
The best news for Baker, though, is that his final chapter has yet to be written. He has the chance to take this adversity head on and inspire himself to improve his defense and shooting.
Baker is an experienced veteran and his presence solidifies a backcourt that will have to produce to ease the load off of Landesberg and Scott. Without his help, Virginia's start will only be a flash in the pan.
Will his career end at Virginia in tragedy or redemption?
Can Baker make the Cavaliers season a storybook ending or will he leave the hallowed halls of John Paul Jones Arena with his head hung down with a career of missed opportunities intact?
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