Andrew Baron: Relishing The Opportunity

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Kristian Hlldebrandt picking up teammate Andrew Baron | Courtesy: Brian Jones

Kristian Hlldebrandt picking up teammate Andrew Baron | Courtesy: Brian Jones

Around this time two years ago, Andrew Baron was averaging less than 10 minutes per game for the Douglas College Royals. He was a rookie on a team with an abundance of third and fourth-year players, and he was nervous.

After graduating from Elphinstone Secondary in 2008, Baron spent three years unsure of what direction he wanted to steer his life into. He knew that he wanted to play basketball at the collegiate level. He also knew that he was very capable of doing so after a stellar career at Elphinstone.

But life has a way of, well, getting in the way.

Then, in the summer of 2010, Baron contacted Denis Beausoleil – the newly-hired basketball coach at Douglas. That correspondence turned into informal summer league games. Those runs in August translated into tryouts, and those tryouts manifested into a spot on the roster.

But it was quickly realized that wearing a jersey and having his name inked on the pregame programs didn’t guarantee any sort of smooth sailing.

In that first year, and first semester specifically, Baron saw limited time off of the bench. His conditioning needed work, his handle and jumper weren’t proficient, and his confidence and inexperience was noticeable.

But he was patient. A DNP turned into three minutes off of the bench. Then it was seven minutes, then 12, and eventually by the end of the season, Baron was starting for the Royals. His production was limited – he wasn’t lighting it up from the outside or beating opponents off the dribble – but he treated every minute like it was his last, diving for loose balls, crashing the boards, and sprinting as fast as he could in transition.

Part of the problem in Baron’s rookie season was that he didn’t really have a position. At 6-foot-3 and big-bodied, he was mostly subjected to the post in high school. He was often shorter than the man guarding him, but a deft touch around the rim and Charles Barkley-like ability to seemingly play four inches taller than his listed height allowed him to flourish.

Andrew Baron Has expanded his skill set | Courtesy: Brian Jones

Andrew Baron has expanded his skill set | Courtesy: Brian Jones

But in the PacWest, Baron had no business being in the paint. Giants were scattered around the league – Kevan Madsen for UNBC, Patrick McCarthy for VIU, and Rob Hougaard for Capilano. So Baron found minutes as a wing. But subjected to being a perimeter player with neither a polished outside shot nor a penchant for slashing posed two problems. One, Douglas wasn’t getting much out of him offensively. And two, Baron wasn’t comfortable.

So in his second season, coach Beausoleil put the ball in Baron’s hands, and made him the team’s starting point guard. His leap in responsibility and playing time worked wonders for his confidence. Baron’s handle improved on the fly, he began to pull up from outside more often, and even started to add hesitation fakes and attack the rim off the dribble.

Nagging knee injuries plagued him for most his sophomore season, but he wasn’t about to let those preciously coveted minutes, that took over a year to earn, slip away. He pushed through the ailments all year and the perseverance paid off come playoff time. Baron scored 14 points, grabbed four rebounds and ripped three steals in Douglas’ quarterfinal victory over Capilano, then followed that up with a 15-point, five rebound performance the next day in a loss to the eventual provincial champion Langara Falcons.

All 15 of those points came from outside the three-point line.

All in the third quarter.

All in a row.

Presently, it’s safe to say that Baron has taken his game to another level.

Beausoleil has moved him from point to post, reinvigorating Baron’s offensive prowess that has lain dormant since his high school days.

In his last three games – against Capilano, CBC and Kwantlen – Baron has averaged 16.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1.3 steals.

The Royals are running almost every half-court set through Baron in the high post, giving him options depending on the size of his opponent.

Maneuvering to the high post and gaining favourable position is the hard part, whereas the decision-making process once getting the ball is rather simple for Baron.

“If a guy is smaller than me, I post him up. And if he’s bigger than me, I take him out to the wing,” he said.

This is most certainly not the same tentative rookie from two years ago. Baron is the only holdover from the 2010-11 campaign, progressing and improving over time like a fine wine.

“He’s matured, he’s poised, and we are going to ride him. He actually feels very comfortable playing inside and being the guy that creates plays,” said Beausoleil.

“He earned his minutes,” added Beausoleil. “In his rookie season, he didn’t play very much at the start of the year, but by the end of the season he was starting. We couldn’t keep him off the floor because he was playing so good. Then last year we had to play him at point guard, which is not his natural position, but he handled that well. He’s our multi-tool guy – he does whatever we ask him to do.”

The next couple of weeks will show if those recent successes have any merit, as Baron and the Royals face their toughest test heading into the winter break. This Friday, they face Langara – a more-than-formidable foe that has dominated them since early 2012. The Falcons went 3-0 against Douglas in in the regular season last year, crushed them in the provincial semifinals, and most recently handed them a 100-65 loss in the Royals’ home opener.

After taking on Langara, the Royals will host another juggernaut in VIU, and then finish with Camosun before the six-week winter break.

“Honestly, I’m never going to say that we’re going into a game expecting to lose, but I think the main thing is just going into it competing,” said Baron. “I think we have to match Langara shot for shot. But they’ve proven that they can score, so it’s dangerous. If we’re hitting though, we have a chance.”

And as for his statistical longevity, Baron is quick to shrug off the numbers and admits that he needs his team just as much as they need him.

“I never have the mindset that I need to come out and takeover, but I stress that we need more than the five guys out on the floor to contribute – we need the guys on the bench and we need 15 guys to win.”

He humbly concedes that he’s “figured out what [he] can and can’t do on the court.” After a few years of ups and downs – often more downs – it sounds like Baron has found the secret to his success.

Whether his individual achievement will translate into consistent wins is yet to be seen, as Douglas has only recorded victories against teams with sub-par records. But if three-straight near triple-doubles and an aura of newly-found confidence count for anything, Baron could be on pace to eclipse what anyone outside of himself thought he was capable of.

“I definitely didn’t expect to be putting up numbers like that. But I guess I never really knew if I could or not, because I never really got a chance.”

That chance is now staring him square in the face, and if the last two weeks are any indication, he’s about to relish the opportunity.

 

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