For better or for worse, Maurice Baker of the Santa Cruz Warriors is somewhat of a D-League legend. Over the course of his career, Baker not only managed to briefly break into the NBA (with the Blazers in 2004-05), but has also emerged as a minor league all-star and an NBADL champion as well. In addition to being the D-League's all-time leader in games played and total career steals, the guard also ranks in the top-10 all-time in categories like points, rebounds, and assists, too.
When he was younger, Baker, like many others, hit the hardwood day in and day out in hopes of eventually reaching The Association. While that ultimate dream may still live inside him today, the guard has also taken on a different role in recent seasons, one that he'll look to continue embracing with open arms as he enters his eighth NBADL season.
"They all kind of call me Chauncey Billups around here. They look at me as the veteran, and it's a role I don't take very lightly," Baker said, gushing to RidiculousUpside.com. "I have a standard to uphold around here. I have to show it and set the example by working hard and doing everything I can in practice and when I'm on the floor."
Considered an assistant coach on the floor of sorts in Santa Cruz, Baker is a very local leader. A guard with sound fundamentals, he has a tremendous understanding of the game, as evidenced in the way he attempts to control the tempo offensively, or the way he applies steady ball pressure.
What Baker may now lack in agility and/or athleticism, he seems to make up for in knowledge and the value he brings to the Warriors. But ironically enough, the D-League veteran has seemingly returned to training camp in arguably his best shape in as many as three seasons.
"I still have that fire in my belly, you know? I love Casey [Hill] so much, so I want to give this team everything it takes in order to win," he said. "I love the game, and I'm just not ready to hang it up yet. That's why I keep coming [back] here."
As somewhat of a local celebrity while in the prime of his career with the Dakota Wizards, Baker has continued to remain a staple for this team in Santa Cruz. The people may come and go and the faces may change from year to year, but the Warriors' mainstay doesn't have to look very far to find his constant. He and Coach Hill have a special bond that appears to rival the closest of coach/player relationships in all of basketball. After all, the familiarity the two have dates back to Baker's days with the Wizards, where Hill started off as an assistant.
"That was my buddy right there," Baker said about Coach Hill. "He used to leave me the keys to his truck, so we definitely have been able to build up that relationship. It goes back to all the way back then, and I know his father, so we have a good relationship."
Fully immersed in training camp, Baker undoubtedly brings something to the table as a floor general who can calm his teammates down and control the flow of an offense. His teammates cheer as he attacks the basket during fast breaks, makes pinpoint passes and/or hits the fadeaway jumper in practice. Needless to say, he's easy to root for. As fate would have it, his teammates and coaches aren't the only ones that notice. The local fans appreciate his efforts as well.
"I love this place," Baker added. "During the basketball season, the fans here go crazy. It's a wonderful time of year around here."
With valuable experience and plenty of knowledge, there's no doubt Baker will make an excellent assistant coach or something similar once his playing days are over. It's safe to say whatever he wants, he's already more than entitled to receive. He's earned it.
But for now, in addition to simply getting another chance to play ball, Baker has a second championship in his sights.
"Every day, we have to keep working hard and getting better. We have to continue doing that until we reach the ultimate goal. No days off," he said.