High school basketball coach again, Josh Baker aims to revive River Rouge State Championship legacy

RIVER ROUGE, Michigan – River Rouge High School has found its new men’s basketball coach and they’re not afraid to brag about it.

When River Rouge hosted a social event this week to introduce new Panthers head coach Josh Baker, district administrators and staff gathered in formal attire for the opportunity to meet the new coach as they were eating appetizers and a dinner buffet under a DJ. played a few tunes.

The only thing missing was a red carpet.

“They talk about being a big family here,” Baker said while taking a break from his mix. “So that has been a great blessing. They take 100% care of the children and 100% help the children and they do whatever they can. “

Why would River Rouge go to so much trouble for Baker? After all, he’s only been in school for a few months and teaches US history.

Well, Baker also happens to be one of the most successful basketball coaches in the state.

Baker coached the Southfield Christian Boys Basketball Team to five Class D / Division 4 State Championships from 2012 to 2019, compiling a record 181-30 during that span. About a month after winning his fifth title with the Eagles in March 2019, University of Alabama men’s basketball head coach Nate Oats hired Baker to join his team as a special assistant.

Suddenly, Baker went from coaching a school with less than 200 students to joining the staff of an NCAA Division I program in a Power Five conference.

Baker enjoyed every moment.

“I think, obviously, Coach Oats has been a big part of that and a huge mentor to me and a great friend throughout this process,” said Baker. “I tried to learn everything I could from him… Obviously I explained to him how to hire staff, how to run the systems and what to put in place first and what our culture looks like. character. He has been an amazing resource and friend to learn. It really is a big part of the coaching journey. “

Baker happens to be a longtime friend of Oats and was his assistant at Romulus High School before taking the job at Southfield Christian. Understandably, the move to Alabama seemed like a match made in heaven. But after spending just two seasons in Alabama, Baker wanted to return home so he could be close to his five children aged 10 and under – including two pairs of twins – who continued to live in the metro Detroit area.

“Because of COVID and family stuff, I couldn’t shoot my kids down,” Baker said. “I have five cubs and they were still there, and I didn’t like it. So I came back to be by their side and be close to them. That was the main reason.

Although his college-level shift is over for the time being, Baker describes his new job at River Rouge as “doing well” for him and his family. Plus, he’s excited to bring back what he learned at the college level in the high school gymnasium.

“I think being at the college level for two years, there’s a mentality with the little things and then the big things of being on time and having the character culture meeting every week, at the clubs. reading and strength and conditioning, performance and nutrition, video and screening – all that stuff is on a much higher level, ”Baker said. “Obviously I’m trying to bring that same level of training one at a time.”

Of course, Baker knows the expectations are very high for him at River Rouge given that the men’s basketball program has won 14 state championships, which is more than any other team in Michigan history.

“I’m well aware of this and their story, how good they are and the expectations for the program and the school,” Baker said. “… Look, I can work as hard as I can today. We’ll do morning workouts, then we’ll have guys in the gym for lunch, we’ll do after school workouts. Basically what I learned from Nate is to do every workout like (college coaches) are in the building. If you do this every day a few times a day and do this for 100 days, then you have passed a lot of schools. “

River Rouge fired former head coach LaMonta Stone in March before the start of the Division 1 tournament when the team was 8-3. The River Rouge administration let former assistant Todd Burgan serve as interim coach for the remainder of the season as the Panthers finished 11-4 with a 44-34 loss to Ann Arbor Huron in the quarterfinals of the state.

In the days following Stone’s dismissal from the program, River Rouge Superintendent Dr Derrick R. Coleman was criticized by Stone supporters as they questioned the motives and timing of the dismissal amid of a season affected by the pandemic. Although Coleman released a statement about it saying that Stone had not “lived up to his expectations,” some were still not satisfied. Coleman wouldn’t go into the details of Stone’s shooting any further, he said it didn’t have to do with wins and losses.

“First of all, I like Coach Stone and everything he had about it here… But I released an official statement,” said Coleman. “… People automatically assumed it was wins and losses and basketball and it wasn’t. Out of respect for Coach Stone, I haven’t spoken publicly about what these things were. But I can say that I believe we have found a coach whose values ​​match what we expect from our young people… There are certain styles of coaching that maybe are not as well received for this generation of young people and how you need to engage them (and) the parents. It’s just a very different landscape that we find ourselves in. “

Coleman said Baker applied for the job a day before the assignment was scheduled. Coleman said he contacted Baker immediately and the hiring process went organically from there with the timing working flawlessly.

“The day he got hired, I should have played the lotto,” Coleman said. “I don’t think my luck could have been better. The day he applied, I should have started playing.

Passing by reference after reference, Coleman received rave reviews from Baker, some of which he said were unsolicited.

“When we tried to identify the characteristics and qualities that we wanted in our next coach, he ticked every box,” said Coleman. “A lot of times people talk about his success as a coach at Southfield Christian with all five State Championships, but I think what’s underrated or underrated about him is the character and the qualities of him as a man.

Going forward, Coleman hopes Baker can help restore the rich history of the River Rouge basketball program championship. Considering River Rouge’s 14 State Championships, Coleman wasn’t afraid to call his schedule the Michigan High School Basketball Boston Celtics. The Boston Celtics have won a record 17 NBA titles since the NBA started singing champions in 1950.

At the same time, however, the River Rouge-Celtics comparison has a more disturbing comparison. River Rouge won 12 of its 14 State Championships from 1954 to 1972 with its last title in 1999. Comparatively, the Celtics won 11 of its titles between 1957 and 1969 and its most recent title was in 2008, well after the previous in 1986.

Although River Rouge finished second in Division 1 in 2019 and 20-1 in 2020 before its season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, the program is still trying to break its championship drought.

Although the 22-year-old championship drought is brought up alongside Baker’s own story, he believes the Championships are won by focusing on the future rather than the past.

“We’re looking to get everyone to step up,” Baker said. “Collectively we’re just trying to say if we have 12 guys then everyone has to be better, everyone has to be in the gym and everyone has to become a better shooter. We need everyone to be guys who can dribble, pass and shoot. So 100% we are looking for a collective effort from everyone. “

Whichever path River Rouge takes with Baker at the helm, Coleman believes Baker can lead the team in the right direction.

“I’m sure we have the best coach in the state of Michigan,” said Coleman. “But when you talk about the qualities you look for in a human being, to help develop young men and women, I think you won’t find anyone whose resumes and credentials match what Coach Baker has. Finished.”


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