In college recruiting, prospects are bombarded with details from coaches about their program’s tradition or its promise of the future.
Texas does the same, and for Westlake seven-footer Will Baker, the Longhorns’ past successes with big men, the makeup of the current team, the plan to use his unique skillset and Texas’ appeal outside of the gym ultimately led him to commit to his hometown school.
“When it came down to it, Texas was the best fit for me,” Baker said Thursday after announcing his decision in a self-produced video. “One reason is (Texas head) coach Shaka Smart is committed to my success as a player, and I feel like I’d be successful there and he’d really utilize my offensive abilities.”
Smart and assistant coach Darrin Horn’s successes with other players of similar height were part of the past that resonated with Baker. In their first season in Austin, Smart and Horn were able to help Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh to their best statistical seasons as Longhorns.
Another Austin big man in Jarrett Allen averaged 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in his only season as a Longhorn before he was selected with the 22nd pick by the Brooklyn Nets in the 2017 draft.
An even larger spotlight was on the post in the Erwin Center last season, when Mohamed Bamba averaged 12.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game before he was picked sixth overall by Orlando. Baker noticed all of those successes.
“Texas has a really good past history with developing big guys,” Baker said. “That’s important to me as well. They have that history, so hopefully I can improve as much as I can like they did their freshman year.”
The present might have been the largest determining factor. Baker said Texas not only sold him on his usage, where he’d be able to showcase his perimeter abilities, but also on who he would share the court with.
“I think I really fit in with the team well,” Baker said. “Like I said, I’m looking forward to playing with Matt Coleman, too.”
Baker described Coleman as a pass-first point guard, and Coleman can likely be credited with an assist in this recruitment. During the preseason’s Texas Tip-Off, Coleman walked around the floor of Gregory Gym with a sign that said “#BakeShow – We Want Will.” He made sure the Bakers saw it before greeting all those visiting with Will.
Coleman wasn’t the only current Longhorn who showed the Bakers appreciation. Effort from the entire staff helped Baker arrive at his burnt orange conclusion. “They not only said that they wanted me, they showed it,” Baker said.
Baker’s basketball future is extremely bright. He holds a composite five-star rating and is listed as the No. 20 player in the nation in the class of 2019.
His off the court future is bright, too. His self-produced commitment video, which showed him in a burnt orange No. 50 jersey in the Erwin Center, reflects his interest in filmmaking.
Baker said the basketball coaches were able to check all of their boxes on his official visit. On that visit, Texas’ film school was able to do the same.
“Basketball coaches said that I’m a top priority, but also the film program,” Baker said. “The dean, I met with him, and he expressed how much he wanted me to be a part of the program, which is really cool. They’re obviously one of the top film programs in the nation.”
All of these factors resonated with Baker. When it was time to decide, Texas had done everything right in order to win out in the end.
“They showed me how much they really wanted me, which was important to me,” Baker said. “It cleared the path a little bit in my mind.”