As a freshman, Darryl Baker arrived at Jeffersonville with unrealistic hype. As a senior, after an odyssey of injury and exodus, he’s finally ready to rise and meet those expectations.
Baker will be the man for the Red Devils as they defend their Class 4-A sectional and Hoosier Hills Conference titles. He’s the leading returning scorer and the central figure on what could be another outstanding team. It’s his Jeff team.
“I look for Darryl to have a great year,” second-year Jeff coach Chad Gilbert said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he averaged in the mid-20s, and in some instances he will have to do that for us to win. One thing is Darryl is a very smart and unselfish basketball player. He’s as athletic as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Baker’s career has been one of mixed results. He suffered a broken leg in the preseason as a freshman and sat out while the Red Devils went to the semistate. He settled for a secondary role as a sophomore while averaging 13.4 during a 13-8 season.
Last year started with his departure to Southport, a subsequent limited eligibility ruling by the IHSAA, and his return to Jeffersonville. He missed four games, then started to fulfill his promise while averaging team highs of 12.7 points and 3.9 rebounds.
He’s been the subject of chatroom banter and off-the-court controversy. But he’s ready to put all that, fair or unfair, behind him.
“It’s been fair,” Baker said. “I’m staying focused and getting my team on the same path we had last year. I just need to be a leader and do everything Coach tells me.”
If Jeffersonville is on that path for another 20-4 mark, it will need Baker to star. It will need consistent shooting from junior Drew Ellis (5.9 points) and sophomore Myles Harvey (4.2).
It will need to replace departed veterans Bryce Roland, Ellis twins Jonathan and Jordan, and point guard Trice Whaley. And it will need to find a big body to roam the paint, because junior Dionte Allen (6.6 points, 2.9 rebounds) decided to concentrate on football and not play basketball this season. The Red Devils need a new identity.
“We’re going to be similar to last year, but the question is: Aare we going to be tough?” Gilbert said. “Those guys were tough and hated to lose more than they liked winning. We’re going to have to develop that attitude. If we do that, we have skills. We just need that toughness. I’m nervous about that.”
Jeffersonville also has some demons to quiet. Last season ended with a stunning meltdown against Bloomington South, a team it had conquered during the regular season, in the regional. The Devils scored only seven second-half points (with no field goals) and fell 35-34. It still stings.
“I’m still not over it and think about it all the time,” Baker said. “But I don’t let it down me. It makes me play better and become a better leader.”