GVSU's Baker endures, finds niche with Laker basketball
Former Toledo transfer perseveres, excels for Lakers
GVL / Emily Frye Junior guard Lindsay Baker on Nov. 19th.
Throughout Lindsay Baker’s entire life, she has been coached to believe in one mantra: just keep shooting. Whether she misses five shots or makes five, Baker is going to keep coming back and letting it fly until it's nothing but net.
Little did she know the mantra ‘just keep shooting’ would take her further in the game of life than it ever would on the basketball court.
Baker, a guard, is in the midst of her junior season, her second at GVSU. Baker was courted by several Division I programs while at Warsaw Community High School in Warsaw, Indiana, and attended the University of Toledo her freshman year before transferring to GVSU.
At the end of the summer before her first college season, Baker found out she had a plantar fascia tear in her foot. The injury sidelined Baker for the beginning of the season, but she was able to make a comeback as the year progressed.
Midway through her freshman season, Baker got her first start, albeit unexpectedly, when Toledo’s starting wing rolled her ankle during shoot around before a game. Baker filled in admirably.
“I went and played, and I actually had a really good game,” Baker said. “The best feeling ever is having a good game your first time stepping on the floor, so that was huge for me.”
Baker started back-to-back games after her debut, and although she was unaware at the time, those would be the final two games she’d play for Toledo.
The team went on break for Christmas, and Baker fell ill. While at first it was assumed she had a common case of the flu, Baker collapsed at practice upon returning from break, which suggested she had something more serious.
For the next four months, Baker was in and out of the hospital. She suffered from severe chest pains and lost strength. Though heart problems were suspected, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
“It’s terrifying, especially when you have chest pains like I had,” Baker said. “I was like, ‘I’m 19 years old, I’m not supposed to have cardiac problems.’ It got to the point where I was really weak, and I couldn’t even get down the stairs.
“It was one of those things, I used to be an athlete; I used to be somebody who could run suicides until they wanted to barf, and now I’m somebody who can hardly get up stairs.”
On top of the mystery illness, Baker was faced with the all-too-real possibility of never playing basketball again.
“It was very hard,” Lindsay’s mother, Christine Baker, said. “It’s their first year. College is hard their first year no matter where you go and whether you play a sport or not, so multiply that by being ill, and it’s so hard having to show up at 5:45 in the morning to stand at a three hour practice you can’t participate in because that’s what you’re ‘supposed to do.’”
After four months of being in the dark, doctors finally diagnosed Baker with costochondritis, or Tietze syndrome — an autoimmune disorder. The problem was occurring in her sternum, but is typically found in the lower ribs. The unusual nature of her case confused doctors, but Baker was cured with medication after they were able to pinpoint what was wrong.
“Runners get it sometimes when they run, but because she fell and it was a trauma that caused it, it made (doctors) think it was a heart attack or something with her heart,” Christine Baker said.
Baker faced a 9-12 month recovery period after the problem was diagnosed. The time gave her an opportunity to return to playing form, but just this month, Baker received word that she was officially 100 percent healed.
Starting out, Baker had to take things very slow. Her strength had diminished a great deal, and heavy breathing aggravated the injury. The rehabilitation process was characterized by a slow, literally step-by-step approach.
“A lot of it came with mental fear for me too,” Baker said. “My lungs were not where they should be from a cardiac standpoint. It was battling the fear of, ‘oh my God, my chest hurts.’ Is it because of what happened, or is it because I’m out of shape? I wanted to stop every time it hurt, because I didn’t want to go through that again.”
During her recovery, Baker transferred from Toledo due to her isolation from the team during her illness and the competitive nature of a Division I program that, in her experience, didn’t fully appreciate what she was dealing with.
“The situation got pretty ugly, from a mama-bear standpoint,” Christine Baker said. “We really wanted to go take her out of school, we just didn’t think it was a good environment she was having to live in, but we let it be her choice.”
After much deliberation, Baker tearfully met with her parents and told them she was going to transfer. It was a hard decision, but Baker says the timing was never right with her injury and the situation at Toledo, and felt she never gelled with the players and coaching staff.
“I wanted to stick out my four years and see that maybe if my health had been better, maybe I could’ve made it there,” Baker said. “I had no doubt in my mind that I would’ve been fine basketball-wise, I just wanted to feel like I fit in with the people I was going to be around 90 percent of the time.”
Initially, Baker was going to attend NAIA school Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. She knew she’d be able to play right away and stay close to home – an appealing consideration after her time at Toledo.
However, after a call from GVSU associate head coach Phil Sayers, Baker realized Grace College wasn’t her calling.
“Coach Sayers got ahold of me, and he basically told me, ‘You have too much talent to quit. You don’t quit, that’s not who you are,’ and he was right,” Baker said.
Sayers and Baker had known each other since Baker’s freshman year of high school, and he recruited her while he was a coach at Western Michigan University. Additionally, Baker had played with three players on GVSU’s team — Brionna Barnett, Taylor Lutz and Taylor Parmley.
“I made the phone call to her and it’s kind of funny, because she wasn’t going to call us,” Sayers said. “She told her parents that, ‘If it’s meant to be, coach Sayers will find out, and he’ll find a way and call me.’ I did, and she came up here and visited and committed the next week.”
Baker says her sophomore year, which was her first year at GVSU, humbled her as a player as she continued to come back from her injury. Although she saw little game action, her pre-illness competitive fire started to return.
“To come off the bench for an entire year really opened my eyes to a lot more about the game,” Baker said. “Even though I didn’t appreciate sitting on the bench, it taught me a lot.”
Baker learned a new aspect of the game, and, for the first time in her collegiate career, she had the backing of her coaches and teammates.
“Being in a place where I really genuinely loved the people I was around, even though I wasn’t playing, it made my experience a thousand times over better than I ever imagined,” she said.
This season, Baker says she has come into her own. She said that for the first time before that fateful Christmas break at Toledo, she feels 100 percent.
“I’ve found my niche. I’ve found where I fit, and I’m healthy. Having the support from my coaches who were saying, ‘You had a great summer, let’s roll that into your preseason, let’s roll that into your season,’ they’re just really pushing me to continue to get better,” she said.
“It was a huge confidence boost knowing I was going to go in the first game.”
Baker has been a key contributor off the bench, and has made her presence known in the first half of the season. She’s averaging 13 minutes a game, and leads the team in 3-point field goals with 29, something she prides herself on.
Before she graduates, her goal is to break former Laker Kat LaPrairie’s record of nine three-pointers in a single game. It’s a steep hill to climb, but Baker has climbed plenty of steep hills in her career.
“One thing every shooter dreams of is holding the shooting record at their school,” Baker said. “(Kat) jokes with us a lot, she still hangs around with us every now and then, I told her, ’10 is a lot to hit in a game,’ and she said, ‘If there’s anyone who can do it, you can.’ I was like, ‘That’s what I’m talking about!’”
Sayers says having such a lethal player from behind the arc gives opposing defenses big challenges.
“You got a 3-pointer sitting there whenever you want to get it to her, chances are, she’s going to hit a shot,” he said. “The other team has to guard her, and in our offense that forces a larger gap for a guard to come off a screen and get in the paint. They’re so worried about (Baker), they suck up to her and now you’re playing 4-on-4, you beat one kid and there’s no help. Just her presence on the court causes difficulties for teams.”
While her abilities on the hardwood certainly impress Sayers, he’s most impressed with how she’s grown mentally, and that her experiences have led to her not letting basketball define her anymore. Rather, it’s just one aspect of her life.
“Basketball used to be what defined her, now she likes the fact that she’s a vocal teammate, that she’s a strong kid,” he said. “Her IQ is off the charts. Just that mental toughness to battle through typical situations and not make it sometimes, she never stops, she keeps coming back for more.”
Baker agrees with her coach’s endorsement, and her experiences have led her to apply a mantra that she used so long in basketball to her own life.
“I can’t think of any better term than ‘keep shooting’ for my life, because I’ve gone through so many things I think most 20 year olds shouldn’t have to go through,” she said. “But, you just have to take that next step and don’t be scared to shoot it.”
It doesn't matter what life, an opposing team, or pretty much anything throws at Lindsay Baker.
She’s just going to keep shooting.