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Harcum's Amaris Baker stays close to home at Drexel

04/12/2023, 1:45am EDT
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

BRYN MAWR — Amaris Baker wanted to go far away from home when she picked her first college destination three years ago as a senior at Cardinal O'Hara. That took her to Kennesaw, Ga. to begin her career at Kennesaw State.

The Owls turned out to be not quite the right fit. Baker’s ambitions changed.

Baker, a South Philadelphia native who played her high school hoops at the Baldwin School and O’Hara, made her way back near home this past season at Harcum College, a local junior college power in Bryn Mawr. 

After a season that included All-American honors and a trip to the national JUCO semifinals, Baker realized she didn’t want her next stop to be too far from her family and the new one she made at Harcum. 

In a small room on campus Tuesday filled with about 50 family, friends, teammates and coaches Baker announced her college career will continue close to both homes at Drexel next season.

“It’s going to be so fun,” said Baker, a 5-foot-7 sophomore point guard. “My family, cousins, everybody, but now I have Harcum, my Harcum family too. They’ll be at the games as well, and I’ll be here supporting them too.”

Harcum College coach Riley Maye, left, and sophomore guard Amaris Baker pose together after Baker announced her commitment to Drexel on Tuesday. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

Baker was a second team All-Inter-Ac player as a freshman at Baldwin in 2017-18 and earned second team All-Philadelphia Catholic League honors in her third season at O’Hara as a senior in 2020-21.

The Kennesaw staff that recruited her left before her freshman season, but she stayed committed. She played in 28 games for the Owls, averaging 3.0 ppg in 15 minutes per game before entering her name in the transfer portal at the end of the year.

”My first year there, it wasn’t terrible or anything,” Baker told those at the commitment ceremony Tuesday. “It just wasn’t the right fit for me. I had to take a step back, mentally, spiritually, physically, all that. It did take a big toll on me.”

Audenried coach Kevin Slaughter, who trained Baker growing up, connected her with the Harcum staff and she said something felt right about coach Riley Maye, his assistants, her future teammates and the program. When she found out Shannen Hinchey, a Ridley alum and Mansfield transfer who Baker previously teamed with in a high school all-star game, was also coming, her decision was confirmed.

Third-year head coach Maye didn’t get the chance to see Baker in high school. However, he watched her film from Kennesaw State and O’Hara and saw her go against some of the players from the Philly Belles he used to coach and knew he was getting a talent. Then Baker arrived on campus, and it was clear he and the program were getting much more than that.

Maye said Baker’s time off during the season was filled with six-miles runs through Philadelphia in December. She and her teammates were out the door by 5:30 a.m. most mornings for workouts and/or lifts. She got better and better as the season went on, adding things like a pull-up jumper to her already impressive game.

“I saw that and I was like that kid can play, that kid can hoop,” Maye said. “And when she got on campus, I was like, ‘That kid is really, really, really, really good.”

“I knew she was super talented. The mentality part. I didn’t think it was going to be like that. From Day 1, she’s been our hardest worker. Lives in the gym. I’ve never seen that kid lose a sprint no matter how light or hard the workout is. All this kind of stuff that’s going on now is the work paying off for her.”

It didn’t take long for Baker to get back on the D1 rader this season. By the end of October she had offers from Delaware State and Wagner. Mississippi Valley State, Bucknell and Rider came along throughout the course of the year. La Salle, Morgan State and Saint Peter's were adde to the list in March.

There was a good reason.

Baker averaged 27.0 ppg, leading the country in scoring among all levels of JUCO players with 919 points. She added 3.1 apg and 6.5 rpg to earn first team All-American honors — the first Harcum player to earn that distinction since 2017-18.

“She’s been a program changing type kid for us,” Maye said. “The women’s program doesn’t actually get kids like that often, and she’s opened the door for a lot more kids like that to follow. We’re going to be good again next year, and a big part of that is kids are seeing what she was able to do here in one year. She bought into our culture right away. She’s been special.”

Baker broke the school’s men’s and women’s single-game scoring record five times this season, a 45-point game marking her highest scoring total. She led her team to a 30-3 mark, a win over the No. 1 team in the country, and a run the national semifinals.

“I just went out there and played,” Baker said. “There was nothing on my mind like, ‘I’m going to beat this record.’ Things like that. It was more about, ‘Play the game, execute, go in the flow of the offense or whatever that we have, lock down on defense and everything,’ and things just have been happening not just ‘because’ but because of all the work we have been putting in.”

Drexel got in the recruiting mix a little late in the process, right before Baker and her teammates were headed to nationals, which began March 21. The Dragons weren’t the only ones reaching out, but Baker and her teammates were on a mission, so she put her recruitment on hiatus until Harcum’s season wrapped.

“I kind of put it to the side because I needed to lock in for nationals,” Baker said. “I was telling coaches, ‘This week I really need to lock in. I promise I’ll get back to you after.’ After that, we got on board, talked over the phone.”

Baker’s time has been filled with phone calls with coaches and visits to different campuses over the last two weeks. Maye said he had a new team reach out daily up until Tuesday’s commitment day.

Along with Drexel, Baker's top choices were Rider, Lehigh, La Salle, Bucknell and Saint Peter’s. She said her recent visit to University City stood out amongst the rest.

“From the coaching staff, to the teammates, the players they had, to the academics — like they had criminal justice — their internships that they have, I just felt like it was the right place,” Baker said. “Even taking that visit, I just felt like there was no weight on my shoulders. It felt comfortable. I knew it was the place for me.”

Drexel freshman point guard Grace O’Neill (7.0 ppg) is slated to be the Dragons’ top returner next season. The Archbishop Carroll product and Baker played AAU together in fourth grade before becoming rivals in the Catholic League. 

Baker should fill a big need for the Dragons as All-American honorable mention Keishana Washington leaves plenty to replace after finishing second in the country in scoring this past season (27.7 ppg). Freshman forward Kylie Lavelle, the team’s second leading scorer at 11.1 ppg, entered the transfer portal, making Washington’s absence next season loom even larger.

”To be that three level scorer,” Baker said of how she can help the team next season. “They’re losing Keishana Washington, superstar. She’s awesome. So they needed a three-level scorer, that leadership role, and I was like, ‘I can do that.’”

It will be hard for Baker to replicate the family feel she had with not just her teammates but many people around Harcum’s campus. However, she believes she’s found the right fit at Drexel.

With two seasons left to showcase herself in the Colonial Athletic Association, Baker is poised to continue doing special things, according to Maye.

“It’s going to be exciting to see how she develops as a player,” he said. “She was really good for us. I think it’s going to be scary how good she is next year and the year after.”

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