MOREHEAD--Father and son were sure to share a special moment at the 16th Region championship game on Monday night.
It turned out to be a fabulous night for the Baker boys.
As East Carter was putting the finishing touches on a textbook 48-38 victory over Fairview, the party was just getting ready to start.
Raider coach Brandon Baker looked across the floor where his father Charles was part of the Schoolboy Radio Network. They locked eyes.
“He pointed and I pointed back at him,” his father said.
Then they looked away, fearing the tears that were sure to follow.
Now the party could begin.
Twenty-four years ago, on
this very floor, Brandon and Charles Baker shared another memorable father-son moment when the Raiders defeated Morgan County 76-66 for the only regional title in school history.
Charles Baker was the Raiders coach and son Brandon was a sophomore starting point guard.
It was exciting, but this may have topped it. Both of them understand how long the journey to a regional title can be.
“Any parent wants to see their kid succeed,” Charles Baker said. “I’m so proud of him. I can’t describe it. You know how hard it is to get here. It happened in ‘86 and never before then.”
Now the ‘86 team has a match with Bakers as bookends.
“When you grow up in Kentucky you’re just a basketball fan from day one,” Brandon Baker said. “Just to get to play on Rupp Arena court, it’s like a fantasy. When you get to live your fantasy, that’s what it’s all about. I’m tickled to death for these guys.”
Brandon Baker will experience the thrill of coaching in Rupp Arena a week from Wednesday.
Brandon is a coaching star in the 16th Region. He took over East Carter’s program in 2002, trying to follow in the footsteps of a region legend that he also called Dad.
“I was very fortunate to take over a program in great shape,” Brandon said. “There was nothing to fix. That’s what was really the pressure to me: Can I continue this? I had some help, somebody who could offer advice. He wasn’t in the gym at practice, he was always in the stands and I knew he was always a phone call away. I always had that in my back pocket.”
Charles Baker took a don’t ask if you don’t want to know kind of attitude.
Olive Hill coaching great Jack Fultz told Charles that Brandon was ready and that he needed to step completely away from the situation. “That boy is going to be a great coach,” Fultz told him.
It was good advice.
His father knew Brandon was ready to be a head coach back in 2000 when he stepped in for him during the Ashland Invitational Tournament. Even though the Raiders lost that night, it was apparent Brandon had what it took to make that move up one seat.
“He had the feel for the game,” Charles said. “I knew who he worked for at Ashland. The nail was in the AIT. It was Dec. 28 when Maria (his daughter) was giving birth to Jodon.”
Brandon Baker is a good coach because of good teachers – and not just his father.
He was recruited by Max Good at Eastern Kentucky University, was an assistant at Lawrence County and Ashland – serving two years under Wayne Breeden and two more under Mike Flynn – and then three on the bench with his father.
“I had some great teachers, no doubt about that, from day one with Dad,” Brandon said. “Max Good recruited me as a high school player. I have great respect for him as a basketball teacher. One of his favorite lines was players are overcoached and undertaught. That has stuck with me to this day.”
Baker is a student of the game. His teams are disciplined, defensive and deliberate. The Raiders are Basketball 101. The mistakes are so few that an eight-point lead is mountain that opponents don’t scale very often.
East Carter went ahead of Fairview 8-0 and never lost the lead. The Eagles only trailed by two at the half, but the Raiders seemed to always hold a slight edge.
East is a beast with the lead.
Dad said he was proud because of Brandon’s standing in the community and the 16th Region, where the respect runs true.
“I’ve heard many comments from people outside his hometown who have said nice things about him,” Charles said. “That says a lot for him.”
Brandon’s mother, Martha Ellen, was at the championship game.
Well, sort of.
She was perched in their 2004 Honda Accord, wearing a hooded East Carter sweatshirt to stay warm while listening to the game in the parking lot. The Bakers arrived at Johnson Arena about 45 minutes before tipoff.
“She never did come in the building,” Charles said. “She just can’t stand it. It didn’t bother her when I was coaching.”
Martha joined the party when her husband let her know it was time to come in.
“There was less than a minute to play,” he said. “You never know about these games.”
Brandon Baker won’t forget his 40th birthday because it now coincides with a regional championship.
“Somebody mentioned it was my birthday,” he said. “Where I’m at now, you try not to bring birthdays up, just let them slide by.
“We’ve usually been turning in equipment on this birthday a lot of times. This is what makes this one a little more special.”
Brandon Baker and Jack Calhoun, his top assistant, are practically joined at the hip.
They were neighbors growing up, wrestling with each other, and playing lots of ball – basketball, baseball and any other game.
They were guards on the ‘86 team, graduated together in ‘88 and are longtime coaching friends now.
Brandon Baker gave his staff credit for the program’s success. “They did every bit as much as I did tonight,” he said.
“His coaching staff is very strong,” Charles said. “I’m going to mention Jack Calhoun. He’s such a good coach and they’re such good friends.”
Fairview coach Derek Cooksey finished his first season with a 23-8 record and a region runnerup trophy.
Not too bad for a rookie head coach. Cooksey inherited a team with six seniors and lofty expectations. He took the Eagles to their first regional final since 1990. Fairview has only one regional title, that coming in 1975 when Cooksey’s mother Lisa was a cheerleader.
“I’m proud of these guys,” he said. “I stepped into a situation with six seniors. I wasn’t naïve enough to try and reinvent the wheel. Anytime at a small school when you get the opportunity to compete for a regional championship you can’t complain.”
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