Baker watching, waiting to compete
CORVALLIS — Chai Baker has spent the past three months wondering if he will ever play basketball again and if so, when he will be able return to the floor at Oregon State.
During the last couple of weeks, he has contemplated those thoughts from the sideline while the Beavers go through preseason practices.
“It is irritating because I am so willing to be out here and ready to be there even just for practice,” Baker said. “It is not even game time and I’m ready to be out there. I have that urge in me now.”
The coaching staff sees that every day from the 6-foot-3 freshman guard.
“He’s frustrated because he’s not sure when his final evaluation will come, but he’s doing great,” new Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said. “At every practice he is smiling but we see him chomping at the bit to try and figure out where he’s at and what his future holds and I know that as a staff we are too.
“Hopefully, that comes pretty quickly in the future.”
Baker’s basketball career has been in limbo since he collapsed following a cardiac incident during a workout on Aug. 19 in the Oregon State basketball center.
“There was a time I thought I might not play again,” Baker said. “Actually, I think about it every day. This is a really big issue. Being out right now is hard because this is my first injury ever and it is on my heart.”
Baker said he has two doctors’ appointments Wednesday and he hopes to learn his immediate basketball future at that time.
“Basically, they are going to see if my pacemaker is in the right spot and if it is good, then I think I am going to be cleared,” Baker said.
If he is cleared, Baker will meet with Tinkle to determine what is best moving forward.
“I haven’t really decided what I’m doing,” Baker said. “I am probably going to leave it up to the coaches and how they feel. If they need me, then I will play, and if they think it is better for me to sit out for health reasons, then I will do that. It is up in the air right now.”
Oregon State opens the season with an exhibition game Friday against Western Oregon before beginning the regular season at home Nov. 14 against Rice.
“I want to see how I react when I start to practice and see if I am up to the tempo and can get to that level in a short amount of time,” Baker said.
Baker is not concerned about having another heart problem on the court.
“Once they tell me I can go 100 percent, I always go 100 percent,” he said.
Baker’s ordeal served as a life lesson for his teammates and coaches.
“It was a scary deal to go through,” Tinkle said. “I think the team came together through that whole thing.”
Baker has heard similar sentiments from his teammates.
“I think team-wise, it is pushing them to go harder,” Baker said. “I am like a little brother to them, so it is like a punch in the face to their little brother, giving them the urge to fight harder.”
Baker went through a life-threatening ordeal nearly 3,000 miles away from his home in Malone, Fla. His aunt, Marylin Stewart, though, works at Oregon State.
“Having her here made my decision to come here easier,” Baker said. “She got the message about what happened to me instantly and contacted my family so they get info back home as quick as anyone else.”
Baker originally committed to coach Craig Robinson, but Robinson was fired in March and replaced the following month by Tinkle.
“A couple schools started to call me after coach Robinson got fired,” Baker said. “Once I heard from coach Tinkle I knew the kind of guy he was. I felt comfortable and stayed committed and came out here.”