On January 9, 2021, on his 21st birthday, Chad Baker got an unexpected present. In a home game against the Fordham Rams, Baker, a SPIRE alum and shooting guard for the Duquesne Dukes in Pittsburgh, PA, racked up 23 points, going 7-for-11 from the 3-point line, for a career high.
Playing basketball for a Division I university is a far cry from the pick-up games the 6’7” shooting guard started out playing in his native Dominican Republic. As his talent for the game and the doors it could open for him became evident, Chad’s parents allowed him to move to New Jersey to live with his paternal grandfather in 2017. In the US, he gained attention playing for Coach Jose Rodriguez’ Patriots at Colonia High School in Woodbridge Township. When an offer to play for Mississippi Valley State University didn’t work out, that school’s head basketball coach and athletic director recommended Chad to SPIRE Institute and Academy’s post grad program.
Chad says he arrived at SPIRE’s Geneva, Ohio campus with few expectations, but was pleasantly surprised. Not only was SPIRE’s basketball team highly competitive, the entire campus community welcomed him like family.
“The year I spent at SPIRE ended up to be one of the most important experiences of my life so far,” says Chad. “Coach Gravelle Craig took me under his wing. He was like a father to me—he encouraged and supported me but he pushed me, too. He didn’t hold back in showing me where I needed to improve, because his goal for me was to become not only the best basketball player I could be but also the best person. I’m a long way from my island and my family, so having people willing to fill that parental role for me meant a lot.”
Chad says the assistant coaches and the performance training staff helped him bring his game to the next level as well. He also says that living with his teammates on the international boarding school’s 480-acre campus provided him with an opportunity he never expected as well.
“I wish I had the words to explain what a great opportunity it was to play for SPIRE with these guys,” he said. “We were brothers on and off the court. We worked hard together in practice and at every game, ending the season with a 25-4 record which was 8th in the country, and we hung out together the rest of the time, too. We’re all playing for different colleges and universities across the country now, but we still have our group text going so we can keep in touch.”
Visits from SPIRE’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Orloff also inspired and motivated Chad. “I remember him stopping by to watch us practice,” he said. “I remember feeling pretty important that he would take the time out of his day for us.”
Orloff says just likes to keep up with his student-athletes, but he also thinks it’s important for everyone on campus to do what they can to help create SPIRE’s trademark environment. “Our job as a sports academy and post grad program is to help athletes ‘find themselves’ and move forward in a positive and productive manner,” says Orloff. “Building student-athletes’ confidence is a big part of that. Once someone has confidence in themselves, their actions, their beliefs, their abilities and their behavior, there is really nothing they cannot accomplish.”
Chad Baker has three more years to play for the Duquesne Dukes, but he’s set his sights on a professional basketball career.
“I didn’t leave my island and my family when I was 14 to just play ball overseas,” he says. “I’ve been given so many opportunities here in the states. I’m going to use them all to get to the NBA.”