Senior Spotlight: Geo Baker | The Daily Targum
In our final senior spotlight, The Daily Targum looks at a player who was a foundational piece of the Rutgers men’s basketball rebuild. He is a player who entered the program at its lowest of lows and leaves it at its highest.
One thousand five hundred fifty-one.
That is the number of people that attended senior guard Geo Baker’s first game at Jersey Mike’s Arena on Livingston campus. In front of only a handful of fans and practically zero students, the then-true freshman guard contributed 4 points on 25 percent shooting.
Fast forward to this past Sunday, 8,399 people, fans and students alike, made up the largest home crowd in 20 years to send off one of the program’s most iconic players — a player who is principally responsible for this renaissance of the Scarlet Knights (18-12, 12-8) basketball program under head coach Steve Pikiell.
This unbelievable change from then to now defines Baker’s success with Rutgers. Since that game on Nov. 5, 2017, the Knights’ progress has been staggering. This is highlighted by the team’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 30 years and the end of a 39-year long absence of an NCAA Tournament win.
“I always think about, back before I even committed, coach Pikiell’s vision — everything he said for me and the program, and everything he said has come true,” Baker said. “No one believed in it … mid-major coaches were texting me saying ‘Why would you go to Rutgers?’”
The three-star recruit from Derry, New Hampshire, has been at the center of it all. Since he arrived on campus in 2017, he has earned a reputation around the Big Ten as an elite mid-range scorer with a patented fadeaway jumper.
He is also a crafty finisher and underrated playmaker, skillfully driving and kicking to open shooters while routinely connecting with sophomore center Clifford Omoruyi for highlight dunks throughout this season.
But most of all, Baker’s career on the Banks is best expressed through his moniker, “Geo Baker, big shot maker”.
Baker’s propensity to come through in the clutch has given the programs’ fans a treasure trove of memories. On Jan. 25, 2020, Baker closed out Nebraska on an all-too-familiar step-back three-pointer that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Baker’s favorite game came a few weeks later, where the then-junior erupted for a season-high 25 points, 23 of which came in the second half and overtime in a 77-73 win over Northwestern. It was a much-needed home win which set up later heroics.
“I just felt like I was in a different type of zone where I just couldn’t miss,” Baker said. “That kind of got me going again for the rest of the season.”
All of this preceded arguably Baker’s most clutch performance. On the road against Purdue, with a ticket to the NCAA Tournament hanging in the balance, Baker scored 19 points and delivered two of the biggest shots of his career: a turnaround jumper to give Rutgers the lead late in regulation and a cold-blooded right-wing shot in overtime to seal the win.
Reminder: This all happened in just one season.
This year, Baker has continued his work in the clutch. With a huge second-half and game-winning free throw to beat then-No. 16 Ohio State and big shots down the stretch to recently defeat Indiana, fans have the utmost confidence when Baker has the ball in his hands late.
“My freshman year, I only got tickets to one game because the rest of the games were sold out, and that one game was the Nebraska game,” said Jason Reid, a Rutgers Business School junior and avid fan of the Knights. “Ever since then, I felt at ease being down or in close games knowing that we have one of the best closers in the country in (Baker).”
Even with all of the clutch shots and big wins, Baker’s impact on college basketball is bigger than Piscataway.
Throughout last season and in the NCAA Tournament, Baker spearheaded the #NotNCAAProperty protest on social media, a movement meant to provide college athletes with the opportunity to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL). Baker’s stance was met with criticism from around college basketball.
With the NCAA officially changing its NIL policy last summer, Baker used the opportunity to partner with companies such as Alva Fitness, Cameo and many small businesses in the University community that were eager to partner with the Knights star.
Baker has put his sponsorships to good use as well. In response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, 50 percent of the senior’s Cameo earnings from March 3 until today will go toward supporting affected people in the region.
“I’m just happy about it because I’ve seen the guys before me who I know would’ve made a ton of money off NIL, and they could have used it in good ways, too,” Baker said. “There’s just so many different situations where people need that money, whether it’s for their family, for themselves, whatever it may be, so I think it’s just life-changing for a lot of people.”
Baker has left his impression in the Rutgers record books. He is ninth overall in points, third in assists, and fifth in both steals three-pointers made. The senior also scored his 1,500th point last month in the win against then-No. 13 Michigan State and is only the 12th Knight to accomplish such a feat.
But with all of the accolades, big shots and success with NIL off the court, Baker has made it known that he is grateful for the time spent on the Banks and the fans that rocked Jersey Mike’s Arena every night. A quick look at Baker’s Twitter feed from Sunday shows that he means every word.
“We just want to say thank you to all (the fans). When we first came here, nobody really believed in us, and we took that, we put that chip on our shoulder, and we just kept fighting,” Baker said after the 1-point win on Sunday. “It’s been so special being here for five years. I love Rutgers University to the death of me. This place is special … We appreciate you guys so much.”
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