NARROWS, Va. —
Imagine what Shelby Baker could have done without a headache and a bout with dizziness.
Look at what she did with those ailments.
Baker scored 23 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and added three steals during Narrows’ 54-49 Mountain Empire District win last Friday over Bland County.
All that and the 5-foot-11 Baker missed more than a quarter after striking her head on the floor.
“I was out (of the game) for probably about five minutes,” Baker said. “I didn’t start in the second quarter and then I went back in halfway through. I was a little dizzy, but I got over it.”
What else makes Baker unique? She is a 14-year-old freshman, who didn’t even begin playing basketball until two years ago when Narrows head coach Wayne Gautier ‘discovered’ her at the local recreational facility.
“I just like the game,” Baker said. “I like the intensity of it and how fast it is and how you don’t have a lot of time to think about stuff, You just try to do what you can at the right moment.
“I have been really happy with it, I love playing basketball, I am happy I got to play.”
She has done it well, earning the Pocahontas Coal Association/Bluefield Daily Telegraph Player of the Week award, the second freshman girl to earn the honors this season.
“It is definitely an honor to get it, especially as a freshman, but I couldn’t do it without my team because they definitely help me out, and my coaches,” said Baker, whose Green Wave played host to Graham and fellow freshman honoree Lexi Kiser on Thursday night. “I am grateful for that.”
Gautier is pleased to have Baker on his side. All she had done is average a double-double through nine games, contributing 16.0 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3.0 assists for the Green Wave (5-4, 1-0). She had made 45.1 percent of her shot attempts, and around 50 percent from the free throw line.
“She is still raw, she is still a freshman, she is still learning the game, learning what to do, learning how to pass out of double teams and things like that,” Gautier said. “She is very open-minded and very willing, she is very passionate about basketball. She is willing to listen, she is open-minded with it and a coach can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Baker moved to Narrows with her parents from Chesapeake, Va., as a third grader, attending school originally at Jefferson Christian Academy near Pearisburg.
“We fell in love with this area so we moved up here,” Baker said. “I definitely like the mountains and how small it is rather than the city. I am not real big on the city at all.”
Basketball wasn’t on her to-do list either until Baker started going to the local parks and recreation department and gave the sport a try.
“I just kind of started because I got interested in it and Wayne was my coach at the rec and I got into basketball real big,” Baker said. “We moved here when I was about 8 and I really didn’t have any experience with it...
“My family isn’t really big into sports, it kind of just happened to me. My parents are here at every game and they support me through it.”
Baker was able to play about 35 organized middle school and junior varsity games last year, which helped prepare her to play varsity as a freshman.
“We had met at the first part of the year and discussed whether or not she wanted to come up (from JV),” Gautier said. “There was a little hesitance there because of playing time...I felt like she would work to be ready for it, which she did.”
Baker has wasted little time proving her worth. She scored 11 points in the season opener against Eastern Montgomery, and has only continued to progress, having scored 19, 22, 19 and 23 points in the last four games, three of which were wins. She had a season-high of 22 rebounds against archrival Giles.
“I was nervous at first, but I was real happy get to play with them,” Baker said. “I was just looking forward to seeing what would happen. I still get really nervous before the games with the crowd and everything, but I kind of get over it. Once we start playing that helps out too.”
It all culminated with her best performance to date against Bland County, even if she did miss some of it while, literally, getting her head examined.
“I fell back and hit my head real hard and had to come out and get checked, but I got to go back in,” Baker said.
Narrows trailed at the break, but Baker, who had reentered late in the second quarter, was deemed fine, and led the Green Wave back to victory.
“You can see it in her eyes that she just wants to get out there and compete, she hardly ever comes out unless she is hurt,” said Gautier, who calls Baker the second ‘fastest’ player on the team. “The other night that was a big key. She got hurt in the second quarter, we thought she had a concussion and went in at halftime and we were behind.
“I felt like we were in trouble and we got the clearance that it wasn’t (a concussion) and she scored 14 points in the second half and made all four of her foul shots so I told her it may have helped her with our foul shots a little bit.”
Other than free throws and avoiding fouls — most of which come on hustle plays — Baker has played beyond her years, having combined with fellow award candidate Tiffany Perdue (16.0 ppg, 4.0 steals, 3.5 ast) to give the Green Wave a potent inside-outside duo.
That has helped the Green Wave improve in scoring from 30 points a game last season to nearly 56 a year later, which should help Narrows improve on its current 5-4 record for a program has tradition, having reached the Division 1 state semifinals in 2009.
“I think in the next few years we are going to have some really good years and hopefully go as far as we can with it and see what happens,” Baker said.
The same goes for Baker herself, who Gautier plans to get involved in AAU travel ball, while also placing her on a strength and conditioning plan.
“She is so strong and aggressive inside, we just don’t want her to get hurt. She has got to start building up the rest of her body,” said Gautier, who compares Baker favorably to former Narrows three-sport star Savanna Burton, who is now playing volleyball at Radford. “She is bruised to death, it looks like she has been beat to death inside. She has bruises all over, but coordination, that is just part of growing up
“What I like about her more than anything is she is willing to work. She doesn’t mind it and she is willing to listen to what you are telling her. It has been very positive so far and the future looks very bright.”
Baker also plays volleyball, but basketball is her sport of choice. Her ultimate dream to play it at the next level.
“I love basketball more than anything,” said Baker, who hopes to grow enough to be at least 6’2. “I play volleyball as well, but I am definitely more passionate about basketball. I couldn’t do it without my coaches and my team because they have brought me up being a freshman...
“I am hoping to get there (to college). It is definitely in my dreams. I want to go to college somewhere and play ball.”
College can wait for now. Baker’s long high school career has started with a bang. Who knows where it could take her and the Green Wave.
“Just win as much as we can,” said Baker, of her goals for the remainder of the season. “Just have a heart for basketball, learn to love it and just play to the best of our abilities together.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
Bland County: Malee Lambert 16; Amber Eaton 10; Kristin Dillow 14 in loss at Narrows.
Bluefield: Destiney Sims 17 points; Jesslyn Fullerton 10; Deja Taxley 11 rebounds in win over Graham.
Graham: Lexi Kiser 55 points; Emaleigh Gallinger 36 points in games against Bluefield, Galax and Tazewell. Dejah Carter 20 points in games against Galax and Tazewell, 10 rebounds against Bluefield.
Grundy: Morgan Hall 26 points and 10 rebounds in loss to Honaker.
Honaker: Tara Deel 13, Leah Elswick 11, Megan Meade 10 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in win over Grundy.
Montcalm: Hannah Johnson 12 points and nine rebounds; Heather Nicewander 12 points and three steals; Stormy Carver 11 rebounds in loss to Liberty.
Richlands: Brittany Allen 15 points, Sarah Compton 13 points and 10 rebounds in loss at Lebanon.
Summers County: Brandy Morrison 27 points and eight rebounds, Whittney Justice 15 points in win over Chapmanville.
Tazewell: Whitney Saunders 20, Haley Christian 10, Autumn Hash 19 in win over Graham.
Twin Valley: Katelyn Jackson 22 points in win over Haysi.
Wyoming East: Hannah Ford 11, Bri Pertee 10 in win over River View.
2013-14 Season Winners
(Five of 11 weeks completed)
Week 1: Morgan Hall, Grundy
Week 2: Brandy Morrison, Summers County
Week 3: Lexi Kiser, Graham
Week 4: Lyndsay Hatfield, PikeView
Week 5: Shelby Baker, Narrows