After the July live recruiting period ended last summer, it was imperative for new Rutgers men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell to quickly land one of his top targets in the 2017 class. Fortunately, he did just that, as New Hampshire combo guard Geo Baker committed right before August began. It was a big lift for the coaching staff early on in their tenure and Baker has since made it official, signing his letter of intent this past fall.
He has had a very good senior season, playing for prep school Proctor Academy in New Hampshire. Baker has scored 30 points or more in multiple games and was named to the SAS Holiday Classic All-Tournament team in late December. Proctor is on of the best prep teams in the state, as Baker plays alongside Tshiefu Ngalukulondi, who is headed to St. Bonaventure, and Caleb Green, who is going to Holy Cross. All three players also have helped the relatively unknown DC Blue Devils emerge this past spring and summer on the AAU circuit. There is a great video feature of the trio here.
The Blue Devils coach is T.J. Thompson, who played at George Washington under current Rutgers assistant Karl Hobbs, who was head coach there, and Pikiell, who was an assistant. Baker isn’t highly rated by the mainstream recruiting services and flew under the radar during his recruitment. No high major programs other than Kansas State offered, although he did hold over a dozen mid-major offers, including George Washington and George Mason. This article from CBS Sports indicates schools like Minnesota, Stanford, Baylor and Cal were ready to start recruiting him after the July live period, but never did because Baker committed to Rutgers. This marks a key difference in recruiting practices between basketball and football, by the way. With that being said, Baker is highly ranked in his class by one regional recruiting service that is more closely attuned to the New England prep school circuit.
In the latest recruiting rankings by New England Recruiting Report published on January 30th, Baker is ranked the 4th best recruit in the state of New Hampshire for the class of 2017. It’s easy to dismiss this fact and say the Granite State doesn’t have a lot of top players, but that would be incorrect. Brewster Academy is one of the prominent prep school teams in the country and they feature five of the top 10 players in the rankings. Guard Makai Ashton-Langford is the top player in New Hampshire and is headed to UConn, while his backcourt mate Thomas Allen is going to N.C State. However, Baker ranks ahead of the three other Brewster players, Curtis Haywood, Michael Okauru, and Aaron Wheeler. They are headed to play at Georgia Tech, Florida, and Purdue, respectively. That is impressive company that Baker ranks ahead of midway through his senior season. Also ranked behind Baker is New Hampton’s Anthony Gaines, who is headed to Northwestern, and the Tilton School’s Terrell Brown, who is going to Pittsburgh.
For the entire region of New England, the NERR ranks Baker 12th overall in their top 75 list. Andrew Platek, the 6’4” shooting guard from Massachusetts, who is committed to North Carolina, is ranked #15th. Other schools that have recruits committed that are ranked behind Baker include VCU, Kansas State, Cincinnati, St. Mary’s Wake Forest, George Washington, Yale, and Princeton.
Baker is known as a high IQ player that is a hard worker and lives in the gym. That is exactly the type of player Pikiell wants to bring into the program. He is a very good shooter, including from behind the arc, and he has solid ball skills. By all accounts, Baker is a high character kid and takes his academics seriously as well. His mother is a graduate of MIT, where she also played basketball.
He has the potential to help Rutgers with three-point shooting and ball handling immediately, depending on how he progresses before next season. His ability to create his own shot is so important, but he also is a good passer and he considers himself a playmaker, first and foremost.
Baker does need to add weight and muscle to his 6’3” frame, but his versatility in being able to play the point or off the ball should be a big addition to the roster. Right now, Pikiell has little options at the point other than Corey Sanders or walk-on Jake Dadika. He could take pressure off Sanders and allow him to play off the ball more as well.
How he defends at the next level will be a big factor in how much of an impact he can make during his freshman season, as Pikiell wants players who can put relentless pressure on the opposing guards. Baker has the height Pikiell prefers in his guards and he should only get stronger once strength and conditioning coach David Van Dyke starts working with him.
The part of Baker that I really like is his attitude. Pikiell has been preaching the need for the team to have more toughness and maturity. It seems like Baker will help on both ends. He has worked really hard to improve the past couple of years and doesn’t seem to take his opportunities for granted. Look at this tweet he has pinned on his twitter account:
I'm going to prove wrong everyone who ever doubted or underestimated me— Geo Baker (@Geo_Baker_1) November 15, 2015
To be honest, I think Rutgers needs more players with a chip on their shoulder and who are willing to work endlessly to silence their doubters. Baker’s experience leading his AAU team from obscurity to relevance should prove invaluable for him, as Rutgers as plenty of critics to prove wrong. He has the type of mindset Pikiell has been looking for, as he seems to eat, sleep, and drink basketball. In terms of being focused and being mature for his age, check out the last tweet he has sent from his account:
Off social media til march text me if you need me— Geo Baker (@Geo_Baker_1) December 15, 2016
Kids staying off social media is pretty much unheard of these days and he has stayed true to his word, not tweeting anything since. Baker seems like a kid who will do everything the staff asks of him and truly wants to be part of rebuilding Rutgers basketball. Fans should be just as excited to see him in Scarlet next season as he appears to be in joining the program. Remember, there will be a learning curve and patience in his development will be needed. However, you have to like the potential Baker brings to the table for Rutgers and in working with assistant Brandin Knight, his development should be fun to watch. This is what Baker said about Knight to Matt Agnoli in this article:
"When he first started recruiting me he would say he was an underdog," Baker said. "He wasn't one of the four-star guys but he just worked his butt off and became one of those top guys.
"And he said he sees a lot of that in me. And I just love that. To know he'll always be there for me. And whenever I want to be in the gym he'll be in there with me.
"And that's just a great feeling."
Here are some recent highlight videos of Baker in action. Watching him drain so many three-pointers will be a welcomed sight after the severe struggles by Rutgers behind the arc this season. If he can be proficient from long range next season, he will quickly become a fan favorite at the RAC!
.@RutgersMBB Signee Geo Baker (@Geo_Baker_1) of Proctor // @dcbluedevilsNH has been cooking thus far in the NEPSAC! Early season highlights! pic.twitter.com/dUcP4kR3ol— HoopMajor (@HoopMajor) January 18, 2017
.@RutgersMBB Commit Geo Baker (@Geo_Baker_1) of @PA_Athletics // @dcbluedevilsNH Raw Highlights from win over NEPSAC AA Worcester Academy. pic.twitter.com/VaEEa3bsSw— HoopMajor (@HoopMajor) January 12, 2017