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JP Baron's hoops commitment pays off in scholarship opportunity

03/30/2022, 11:30am EDT
By Zak Wolf

Zak Wolf (@ZakWolf22)

Sitting in a Wawa parking lot with his dad the summer before 7th grade, J.P. Baron found himself faced with a decision. He had just gotten done playing a game for his local travel team, the Collegeville Jags, when his dad decided to have a heart-to-heart conversation with him about his future. 

Throughout his early years of basketball, J.P. played travel for his dad, John Baron, who’s the head coach at Gwynedd Mercy University. J.P. was mostly reduced to the role of ‘hype man’ on the end of the bench without ever playing a significant role. 

One day, with most of the players from the team missing, J.P. was given more minutes than he usually got. Baron didn’t play poorly, but it was clear that he was overmatched in terms of speed, skill, and strength. 

JP Baron (above) accepted a scholarship offer to D-II Lynn University (Fl.). (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

After the game was when Baron’s dad decided to be real with him. During the talk, he was authentic and didn’t pull any punches while being brutally honest. J.P. had two choices: either start to put more effort into basketball and play competitively, or not be as serious while just having fun with his father. 

“That’s’ when I wanted to take it seriously, I wanted to put the work in and get better,” J.P. Baron said.  “That was when I started to realize, basketball isn’t just a sport to play for fun. It is a fun sport for me, but you’ve got to put the work in if you want to get where you want to be.”

That was the turning point for Baron and from then on, he dedicated himself to basketball, making sure that they never had to have a conversation like that ever again. After all those years of hard work, it seems to have paid off for J.P., who will continue his collegiate career at D-II Lynn University (Fl.), a private school of 3,000 in Boca Raton.

Baron started off at La Salle College HS, playing on the freshman team the year that the Explorers made the PCL Championship and state semi-final. He played alongside Nix Varano (Army) and Chris Williams, both of whom were starters for La Salle the past couple of seasons. 

J.P. decided to go a different route and at the beginning of his sophomore season, he transferred to Pope John Paul II. Baron’s transition was easy, since he lived a short distance from the school and had played with the likes of Kevin Green, Sean Heller, and Aidan O’Brien before. He would also be playing under Brendan Stanton, who was one of his dads’ former players. 

“You’ve got to be able to adapt to things and I feel like I transitioned really well,” J.P. said. “It didn’t take long for me to become one of the guys on the team, although my role wasn’t huge my sophomore year, I still felt like I made a pretty big impact… From then on, I felt comfortable, and we had great success over the next two years.”

That year, PJP lost to a dominant Methacton team in the Pioneer Athletic Conference final. With J.P. playing a bigger role as a junior, PJP was able to win the PAC Frontier division the year after, as well as a District 1 4A championship. In his senior season, Baron led the Panthers back to the PAC and district championships but lost to Methacton and Collegium Charter. 

J.P. (left) and John Baron at the Donofrio Classic on Monday. (Photo: Joseph Santoliquito/CoBL)

Playing for PJP, J.P. wanted to make a name for himself. For a long time, he had been known as ‘Coach Baron’s son’ but for the past couple of seasons he’s been laser focused on trying to change that sentiment. 

“He loved it when he was younger when he got mentioned as my son, but now he wants to look at it like I’m a stand-alone person,” John Baron said. 

“One of the things he kidded with me was ‘I’m determined to make you known as my dad more than I am known as your son,’” the Griffins coach added.

J.P. certainly has given his best efforts to get rid of the label, averaging 18 points per game, eight rebounds and three assists this past season for PJP, earning first team all Pioneer Athletic Conference. 

Before picking Lynn, Baron was getting looked at by Bloomsburg, California University of Pennsylvania, Eckerd College (Fl.) and Saint Leo University (Fl.). 

At Lynn, he’ll join a Fighting Knights squad coming off a 11-13 season, including 5-15 in the Sunshine State Conference. But head coach Jeff Price, who’s been in his second stint at Lynn since 2013 and has a 423-275 record in 22 career seasons, has guided the program into multiple NCAA Tournaments, including a Sweet 16 run, and also has significant coaching experience at the Division I level.

Price and his staff discovered Baron through a connection with his father; John Baron had brought his Gwynedd squad down to Florida almost a decade again, playing a game at Lynn in Dec. 2013. The elder Baron has recruited the Sunshine State well over the years, bringing up several standout players from Florida, and put JP’s name out to several schools from that region last summer.

Baron (above) and PJP made it to the PAC and District 1 4A championship games in 2021-22. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

In a trip down to Florida earlier this month, Baron visited Eckerd, Saint Leo’s and then Lynn, working out for each of the coaching staffs; a couple one-on-one games against former Lynn guard Jordan Allen, now playing in the G-League, helped convince the Lynn staff that Baron could hold his own.

Baron is best known for his outside shooting, connecting on about 35 percent of his 3s this season, knocking down 43 in 23 games, but there’s more to his game than his ability to hit catch-and-shoot threes. Baron can score at all three levels, using his deceptive speed to blow by defenders and if they decide to recover, he can hit mid-range pull ups. 

He also does that dirty work that other players sometimes aren’t always willing to do,

“I do stuff that many people don’t see if they don’t play basketball,” Baron said. “I get deflections, steals, I rebound well and I’m able to defend bigger kids.”

Playing off the ball in high school, Baron will have to make the adjustment of having the ball in his hands more often while trying to initiate the offense at the next level. 

“I would like to become more of a point guard, getting better with my handle. I don’t want to say that’s one of my weak points, but it’s something I can improve on,” he said. 

Over the years, J.P. has learned that working hard gets you places, and he realizes that he’s going to have to push himself if he wants to get minutes as a freshman. After putting in countless hours to get to this point, there’s no point in stopping now. 

“The phrase I always use is ‘do what it takes,’” Baron said. “Obviously something that every freshman wants to do is get on the floor, so I feel like I’ll do whatever it takes to get on the floor. Keep working on my game, being in the gym as much as possible to really improve and take myself from a high school level to a collegiate level.”

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