Two Teammates that “Shocked” the World


March brings out the most emotion in college basketball players. And for Wichita state seniors guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, it is no different.

After watching a lot of college basketball this weekend, there was one moment that stood out to me over the whole weekend, and that was watching VanVleet and Baker walk off the court with their arms around each other, heads down, and towels over their heads to cover their tears, as their illustrious careers came to a devastating end with a loss to Miami.

If you’ve followed March Madness for long enough, you know who Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are. These two were just freshmen that got a reasonable amount of playing time when the Shockers “shocked” the world in 2013, making a Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2013. The following year as sophomores, VanVleet and Baker, led Wichita State to a perfect 32-0 record in the regular season before a second round exit to that year’s runner up, Kentucky. The next year the Shockers made it to the Sweet 16 before losing to Notre Dame. Each year, these two had the opportunity to go pro, and each year they turned it down. After seeing those two walk off the court for the final time as teammates, I had to stay tuned to see what they would say in the postgame press conference. Both Baker and VanVleet¬†showed up, but what Ron Baker said really stood out to me. He said, “A couple of years ago, I told Fred that we would be back in the Final Four after we lost to Lousville, walking down the tunnel. And I wasn’t able to keep that promise to him and we weren’t able to make it back”. He went on to say, “The feeling right now is not fun. I feel disappointed. I feel like I disappointed my teammates and my family”. ¬†VanVleet went responded by saying, “Even if we had been able to cut down the nets in Houston, I probably would’ve cried the same just cause it’s over”. Those words put the past 4 years of Wichita State basketball into perspective. I could talk forever about how much selflessness, humility, and perseverance these two have, but I’ll simply say this. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker put Wichita State on the map in the basketball world. They are the only pair of teammates in the history of Missouri Valley Conference to make it 4 NCAA Tournaments. They each have the potential to play at the next level, and both have graduated from Wichita State. And yet, despite all that, I am almost positive that they apologized to each other, their teammates, and their coaches about letting them down.

This backcourt duo is fun to watch and easy to like, a rare combination for any athlete to have. They’re easy to pull for. VanVleet grew up in Rockford, Illinois, the heart of recruiting for Big Ten schools. Baker is more homegrown, born and raised in Hays, Kansas. These two weren’t given the opportunity to play for the powerhouses of college basketball. Instead, they attended little known Wichita State, and, for four years, were exactly what’s on the front of their jersey, “Shockers”. As a fan of the game, I can truly say this, college basketball, especially March Madness will never be the same without Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker.