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Geo Baker announces return to Rutgers

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The most important player of the Pikiell era is back for one more run.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Rutgers at Clemson Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After an offseason that has included more questions than answers, Rutgers men’s basketball fans can finally breath a sigh of relief. Geo Baker announced his decision to return to Rutgers for a fifth season on Wednesday. The NCAA allowed for an additional year of eligibility due to COVID-19 and after testing the NBA Draft waters, Baker ultimately decided to take advantage of the rare opportunity. He cited “unfinished business” in this video announcing his return.

It was long expected within the program that Baker would ultimately return for next season. He had entered the NBA Draft process without signing with an agent, thus maintaining his eligibility. Although he recently had individual workouts with the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Toronto Raptors, Baker did not receive an invitation to participate in the G League and NBA combines last month. That likely meant Baker would have gone undrafted had he remained in the NBA Draft.

The now super senior averaged 10.2 points, 3.2 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals last season in helping to lead Rutgers to its first NCAA Tournament berth in 30 years. He also scored the game clinching basket against Clemson to seal the program’s first NCAA Tournament win in 38 years.

While Baker has already cemented his legacy at Rutgers for his leadership and late game heroics, he now has an opportunity to establish himself even more so in the records books for his career. He enters next season near the top all-time in several categories: fifth with 376 assists, seventh with 183 made 3-pointers, eighth with 145 steals and 20th with 1,269 points. In 117 career games, Baker has averaged 11.1 points, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals.

Of course, leading Rutgers to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament trip and potentially farther into the Big Dance would elevate his collegiate career even more so.

Over the past two seasons, the Scarlet Knights are 21-9 overall and 14-7 in Big Ten play when Baker scores in double digits. Rutgers is just 16-15 overall and 8-13 in league play when he doesn’t.

Geo Baker’s greatness has never been in the stats though, rather it has been in the moments. His leadership and ability to excel when it’s needed most is the defining characteristic of his Rutgers career. Baker established himself as the face of the Pikiell era so far after being ranked 414th in the 2017 recruiting class. While he has struggled with injuries and shooting at times, his worth has been far greater in changing the attitude and culture of the program. His never say die persona and perseverance through adversity is what makes him the most important Rutgers player in the last decade plus.

Baker has also become a key figure throughout college athletics with playing a significant role in the for student-athletes to earn name, image and likeness rights. He was one of three players in men’s college basketball to lead the #NotNCAAProperty campaign that generated a lot of media coverage, public support and pressure on the NCAA since March.

After the Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA in June regarding educational benefits in the Alston case, Commissioner Mark Emmert saw the writing on the wall. With a good number of states having already passed legislation for NIL rights, the NCAA moved lighting quick over the course of two weeks to waive the rule that made it illegal for student-athletes to receive financial compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness. Per Baker’s Instagram account and his return video, he has signed a deal with Alva Fitness and has custom jersey designed for sale in his honor.

In the course of a few months, Baker led Rutgers to an historic victory at the big dance and helped take down the monster that is the NCAA by ending amateurism forever.

With the return of Baker and Ron Harper Jr., who announced his return on Wednesday as well, expectations for Rutgers next season should remain high. The bar should be at a minimum to return to the NCAA Tournament once again and the ceiling should be to make an extended run in March.

On senior night last season against Indiana, Baker had a heroic performance against the Hoosiers to push the program closer to its first big dance in 30 years. However, it was only a few weeks later that he was questioning his own place in Rutgers lore following devastating second round defeat to Houston in the NCAA Tournament.

Baker commented after the season ending loss, “I’ve always wanted my legacy to be a winner. I don’t really know where that stands right now, to be honest with you. That is just what I always felt like I am, a winner. That is just what I want to be known for.”

As far as the end of the game against Houston, Baker added, “I thought we could have gone farther. Came down to one possession. Felt we could have done something more. I mean as a competitor, you’re never really satisfied. You can kind of always just want more. I let that slip away on the last play.”

Not only will he have the unprecedented chance to provide an encore with a second senior night, Baker now has the opportunity to enhance his legacy by doing what he knows best.....winning. If he can help lead this program even farther next March, it would be an exclamation point on an already historically significant career at Rutgers.