The Baker surname has become synonymous with the Hilliard Darby High School boys basketball program.
Nic Baker, a 6-foot-3 senior forward, is the fourth member of his family to play for the Panthers, and chances are he won't be the last. His eldest brother Michael, a 2006 graduate, began the tradition, followed by Tim, a 2007 graduate, and Jon, a 2008 graduate. His younger brother, Jason, is a seventh-grader who plays the sport at Heritage Middle School.
Nic learned the program's essence as a team manager when his three older brothers played for the Panthers.
"It's funny because I remember (former) coach (Brett) Norris as kind of being a scary figure, and I was even afraid to ask him if I could be manager," Nic said. "But it was a lot of fun watching my brothers play and I learned a lot from it. I learned that you have to play hard all of the time and that you can never let up."
Through 15 games, Baker was averaging 10.5 points and had made 31 of 74 (41.9 percent) 3-point attempts. That shooting prowess gives him a bit of an edge when playing "HORSE" with his brothers.
"Because I'm playing now, I'm a better shooter than they are," he said. "So to beat me, they have to break out the behind-the-backboard shots and other trick shots like that. I don't shoot from behind the backboard a lot in practice."
Coach Mark Hess said players like Baker are essential to first-year coaches like himself.
"It's hard to summarize the value that Nic Baker brings to our team because he brings so many positive attributes. I think his best qualities are his leadership, that he's very coachable and that he's consistent.
"Nic is one of the greatest leaders that I have ever been around. He is a great young man and is willing to do whatever it takes to help out the team or the program. He always brings his best effort every day. Whether he is shooting well or not, he always brings something positive to the table with his effort and positive leadership."
That effort was evident in a 48-33 win over Davidson on Jan. 19, a 60-55 loss to Upper Arlington on Jan. 22 and a 73-65 win over Dublin Jerome on Jan. 25. Baker had 15 points against the Wildcats and Celtics and scored 11 against UA. He made three 3-pointers against both Davidson and Jerome.
Junior guard Taylor Van Winkle had a team-high 16 points against UA, with senior guard Caleb Day and sophomore guard David Dennis adding 11 points apiece. Dennis had a team-high 17 points against Jerome.
"One of Nic's strengths on the court is his ability to score in a variety of ways," Hess said. "He is a great set-shooter, but he has worked hard to develop his game and become able to score off the dribble and in the paint. The development of his offensive game off the dribble has really made him a complete scorer."
Baker embraces his role as a leader.
"We have really good chemistry on this team and it's the job of the captains ? (senior guard) Cade Carter and myself ? to keep that going," he said. "We have to play hard on defense and play hard the whole game and play smart. We have to set those examples for the younger players."
According to Hess, when it comes to leadership, Baker has set a good example for the younger players.
"I think one of Nic's best attributes is the way he teaches the game to the younger kids," Hess said. "During our youth camp last summer, he was hoarse by the end of the week because he was putting forth so much effort into coaching the kids.
"Also, we do an after-school tutoring program with elementary schools called Panther PALS and I have had a few people comment to me at the elementary school that he works with about how great he is with the kids and how great of a leader that he is."
Darby was 10-6 overall and 5-4 in the OCC-Cardinal before playing Worthington Kilbourne on Jan. 29.
The Panthers have league games Friday, Feb. 1, at home against Westerville South and Tuesday, Feb. 5, at Dublin Scioto. They lost to both opponents in the first round of league play, falling 62-56 to South on Dec. 21 and 56-30 to Scioto on Jan. 4.
Against South, Baker scored 17 points, including five 3-pointers. Van Winkle also had 17 points, including four 3-pointers, and Dennis scored 16. Dennis had a team-high 13 points against the Irish.
"The last two or three weeks are going to be tough," Baker said. "But our practices are intense and they get us ready to play games. We have to be crisp in practice in order for that to carry over into games."
Girls team prepares to play South, Scioto
The girls team entered the week 4-14 overall and 2-8 in the OCC-Cardinal.
Darby, which had lost seven of its previous eight games before facing Worthington Kilbourne on Jan. 29, has league contests Friday, Feb. 1, at Westerville South and Tuesday, Feb. 5, at home against Scioto.
The Panthers lost to South 41-35 on Dec. 21 and lost to Scioto 50-42 on Jan. 4. Senior guard Sydney Palsgrove had 13 points against South and junior guard Erika Boyd and senior center Emily Krumpe both scored seven. Krumpe had 22 points against the Irish and senior guard Katie Esposito and Palsgrove scored 10 and nine points, respectively.
Darby converted 13 of 14 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter of a 54-45 win over Jerome on Jan. 22. Krumpe had 15 points and Palsgrove scored 13, going 7-for-8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. Junior forward Caitlin Snyder had 12 points and Esposito scored 11, including three 3-pointers.
The Panthers lost to Thomas Worthington 46-40 on Jan. 22. Krumpe had 13 points and Palsgrove scored 10.