Geo Baker arrived at Rutgers as an under recruited 3-star prospect that was too skinny and not dynamic enough to contribute right away in the Big Ten. At least that was the general thought outside of the program and fan base. He was ranked the 414th best prospect in the class of 2017 and held just one high major offer (Kansas State) other than Rutgers Instead, Baker has become a mainstay in the starting lineup since his freshman debut and has officially taken the mantle as the unquestioned leader of the program. Entering his junior season, it’s clear that Baker is the backbone of the foundation that head coach Steve Pikiell has developed in rebuilding Rutgers basketball.
As a freshman, Baker served an apprenticeship of sorts to point guard Corey Sanders, playing off the ball and providing some relief bringing the ball up at times. He did much more than that, averaging 10.8 points, 2.6 assists, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in 31.6 minutes of action. While Geo hit the proverbial freshman wall that included the flu in mid-February of that season, scoring just 19 points in the last four regular season games and first round of the Big Ten Tournament, he combined to score 40 points in the second round and quarterfinal contests during that memorable run at Madison Square Garden in 2018. In the quarterfinal loss to Purdue, Baker busted out on the big stage with 25 points on 10 of 20 shooting, making several clutch baskets.
Last season, with Sanders gone and no true point guard on the roster, Baker assumed control of the offense and did it admirably. He improved statistically, averaging 12.2 points, 4.1 assists, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.6 steals in 34.0 minutes per game. Baker finished second in the Big Ten in steals, fifth in assists , was tied for eighth in minutes played and tied for ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio. He earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors by both the coaches and the media, joining Sanders as the only other Rutgers player to be honored by both in the same season. The Scarlet Knights went 7-1 when Baker scored 16 or more points in a game last season.
Baker has struggled shooting the ball consistently his first two seasons, as he averaged 38.0% from the floor as a freshman and dipped to 35.4% as a sophomore. Interestingly, Baker has been more consistent from three-point range, making a solid 36.1% from behind the arc his first season, followed by 34.1% from deep last season. He ran out of gas the last four games of last season, shooting just 8 of 33 (24.2%) from the field and 4 of 18 (22.2%) from three-point range, as the toll of playing so many minutes with so much responsibility finally wore him down.
Even despite the need to shoot at a higher clip moving forward, Baker ably stepped into the role last season of being the guy at the end of the game to take the big shot. He delivered several times, including last minute baskets in the wins over Ohio State and Minnesota, as well as a go ahead three against Iowa at home, seconds before suffering a heartbreaking defeat at the buzzer.
However, it’s his leadership that was perhaps most valuable last season and continues to be the case entering the most anticipated season for Rutgers in many years. With three key freshman having played along the perimeter in Montez Mathis, Caleb McConnell and Ron Harper Jr., they leaned on Baker throughout last season. All three have progressed this offseason and look to be bigger contributors on the court this year.
In the wake of former captain Eugene Omoruyi’s departure this offseason, Baker has carried the torch of having the team focused on delivering the program’s first winning season and earning the first postseason berth in 14 years. Losing Omoruyi in the manner they did appears to have only strengthen the bond and resolve of this team. Baker has been a key in moving this team forward.
Due to roster additions, Baker will be able to play off the ball much more so this season, which will better suit his game. It will also take some pressure off of him with Jacob Young and Paul Mulcahy able to carry the load of running the offense. Baker’s ability to roam around more so will also make him harder to defend. Young and Mulcahy are natural penetrators, which should help Baker get more open looks from the perimeter and behind the arc. While Baker is able to create shots off of the dribble, last season that’s pretty much the only way he was able to get looks at the basket. Almost every shot he took was contested. This season that won’t be the case with more weapons on the court. He’ll also have Ron Harper Jr. and Jacob Young able to take big shots at the end of games, so it will make Rutgers that more difficult to defend with the game on the line.
A big reason fans love Baker is he assumes Pikiell’s personality more so on the court than any player during the head coach’s tenure so far. He is an extension of Pikiell in leading the team on the court and his fearlessness has been an asset. His toughness and leadership are so important to the progress made and the direction this program is taking in Pikiell’s fourth season. He’ll also have more support this season with his former AAU coach T.J. Thompson now on Pikiell’s staff.
Baker has a chip on his shoulder dating back to his scholastic days, exemplified by this tweet he has pinned at the top of his Twitter profile from four years ago.
I'm going to prove wrong everyone who ever doubted or underestimated me— Geo Baker (@Geo_Baker_1) November 15, 2015
It’s the type of swagger and edge Rutgers basketball has needed for decades. Having more help for Baker this season is expected with improved talent on the team due to roster additions and player development. No player should benefit more than Baker, who won’t always have to carry this team on his back anymore and shouldn’t wear down at the end of the season like he has in years past. How that translates statistically remains to be seen, but if Rutgers rises up the Big Ten standings this season, Geo Baker will be at the forefront of that progress.