On weekend walks around the upstairs track at the Maryville Community Center, Spoofhound head boys basketball coach Mike Kuwitzky has often looked down at the basketball courts and noticed a familiar presence.
It was Jonathan Baker hoisting up jump shots with near flawless form, while his father, Roger, rebounded and passed the ball to him.
In a day and age where players have become increasingly reluctant to spend their free time in the gym, this always made quite an impression on Kuwitzky.
"That is a rarity today. You don't see that hardly at all," said Kuwitzky. "When I go to the rec center and places like that, you may see some of your kids scrimmaging and playing, but rarely do you see that one kid out there shooting shot after shot. He's done that his whole career."
Baker's willingness to work on his game has paid off in a major way throughout high school and allowed him to develop into one of the state's best players as a senior.
Last week, Baker learned of his inclusion on the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association (MBCA) Class 3 All-State team. He's the first Spoofhound boys basketball player to earn all-state honors since Josh Wilmes in 2005.
"I was definitely surprised just because the amount of teams in our class and how many great players we've faced during the year ," said Baker. "I know I couldn't have done it without coach Kuwitzky here with me and my teammates. Coming into high school, I had goals I wanted to accomplish for basketball and this was a great one."
Baker, a 5-11 guard, will soon have a composite photo lining the upper walls of Maryville High School outside the gymnasium acknowledging his all-state status in basketball.
He's already got one hanging up from football after earning first team all-state honors at quarterback, putting him in extremely rare air.
Prior to Baker, the last Maryville athlete to get all-state in football and basketball in the same year was Matt Redd—the school's all-time leading scorer—in 1995.
"It means a lot just because I've put in a lot of hard work," said Baker. "I've known what I've had to sacrifice throughout the years to do well in sports. I also know that hard work doesn't go along by yourself. You have to have a lot of help along the way with coaches and your teammates and people pushing you. My family has always been there for me. God has given me great ability and to accomplish these things, you have to look at it as a whole and realize the blessing you have."
With his all-state selection in basketball, Baker fulfilled the promise he's held since grade school when he won a national free throw shooting contest. From that point on, Kuwitzky and others at the high school realized they had something special coming up the pipeline.
Page 2 of 4 - "We always knew he was a great kid and came from a great family, but his interest in basketball was always so high," said Kuwitzky. "He went through our system. He went through our little kids camp. As he got into high school as a freshman, you knew he spent so much time on his game that he was going to be special."
As a freshman who stood around 5-8, Baker played exclusively on the freshman team, while the senior-laden varsity team won districts and reached the state quarterfinals.
The next year, Baker started on varsity from day one and was the second or third option in a lineup that included Tyler Peve and Tyler Walter.
Baker flashed potential greatness that year and as a junior blossomed into an all-conference player with Walter as his main sidekick.
This year, as one of the football and basketball team's top senior leaders, he elevated his game and both programs to new heights.
After breaking many of the school's passing records on a state championship team in football, Baker led the district champion Hound basketball team in points, rebounds, assists and steals.
Despite being the main focus of every opposing defense, he averaged a career-best 16.9 points per game, 4.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.3 steals.
The purest of shooters from the time he was in elementary school, Baker stroked three's at a 46 percent clip, and with the help of a newly established post game, made over 51 percent of his field goal attempts.
He also shot 88.2 percent from the foul line, believed to be a new school record.
"I've put in a lot of work behind the scenes," said Baker. "Last summer, coach Kuwitzky gave me a lot of tips on working on shooting by myself and how to get better in that aspect so that my shot can improve. It definitely carried over through this winter. I've also been to a lot of camps in both sports. It helps just to get different viewpoints. It all worked for the better. You could see it paying off this year."
Kuwitzky has his own theories behind Baker's hardwood ascension from being a good player to a great one that, on some nights, was completely unguardable.
"I think he really believed in our system, and the players that do the best are the players that work within it," said Kuwitzky. "I think when the coaches told him there was things he needed to work on, he did it. He worked out. He got much stronger. Football helped him tremendously. He was just confident this year. He was so focused. He wanted to do so well, but you knew he was driven and he was really determined."
Page 3 of 4 - Baker's senior season included its share of memorable individual performances.
He scored a career-best 34 points and went over 1,000 for his career while missing just three shots in a 64-57 win over Smithville who at the time was ranked No. 10 in Class 4.
On Senior Night, Baker made the game-tying basket and delivered the game-winning assist to Trent Nally in the final minute of a 58-56 win over Savannah.
In sectionals, Baker put up 26 points and connected on five three's, nearly willing the Hounds to victory in a 70-64 season-ending loss to eventual Class 3 runner-up St. Pius X.
Baker's fondest memory of a 20-8 season was the team's 63-40 victory over Cameron in the district finals that gave the Hounds their first district title since 2009-2010.
"You think about that a lot through your whole life," said Baker. "Coach tells you about it all the time, the teams before us that have won districts. I've been lucky enough that I remember a lot of those teams just because I liked to watch games when I was little. I know me and my fellow seniors remember those moments in 2004 and hoisting the district championship and recently in 2010. That was a big one. That was probably the driving force behind it all. It was a great reward for us."
A three-year varsity starter, Baker finished his Spoofhound career with better than 1,100 points, accumulating 473 of those as a senior.
He's one of only eight players in the history of Maryville boys basketball to eclipse 1,000 points in his career.
Kuwitzky, who just completed his 27th year at MHS, considers Baker to be one of the greats to come through the program.
"Just because of what kind of person he is and just what he's meant to this team and how much of a pleasure he's been," said Kuwitzky. "He's in that elite group of players that really make a difference in your program and they're a pleasure to coach. They make coaching fun and they make being around young people fun. He's definitely in that category of players that I really appreciated coaching."
Baker has one more sport remaining in his MHS career—baseball—before he heads across town to join the Northwest Missouri State football program.
He signed with Northwest in February and is content with just focusing on football from here on out.
"I'm proud of the way it ended, so you have no regrets in the fact that it's over, but we still had fun and got a lot accomplished," said Baker.
If Baker were three or four inches taller, he probably would have had to choose between playing Division II football or basketball.
Page 4 of 4 - Kuwitzky thinks Baker, who only had NAIA offers, should've been recruited by Division II basketball schools anyway and is already bracing for what life will be like without him at MHS next year.
"We're going to miss him a lot and we're going to miss him a lot not just as a player, but as a human being," said Kuwitzky. "Just his presence on the team, on the court. You never had to worry about him being coachable and his positive attitude. He's going to be very hard to replace."