News and Tribune

November 2, 2010

Troubled basketball legend dies after bout with pneumonia

By MATT KOESTERS
matt.koesters@newsandtribune.com

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Former Jeffersonville High School basketball standout Tommy Baker died on Friday, Oct. 29 after a bout with pneumonia. He was 51.

Baker, who graduated from Jeff in 1977, played in 82 games during his high school basketball career for the Red Devils. He ranks 10th all-time in scoring for Jeffersonville with 1,087 points, averaging 13.3 points per game. Baker ranks eighth in school history with 456 field goals made and 10th in rebounds with 431.

Baker grew up in the Claysburg area of Jeffersonville, and served as a mentor to other children in his neighborhood.

“He was probably the greatest basketball player that ever came from Jeff,” Bill Ballard, a friend of Baker, said. “He used to dribble around the area all night, practiced all night.

“He had a lot of natural ability, but also worked on it.”

Baker played on the Indiana All-Star team in the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Series in 1977.

“(He was) the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, especially with basketball,” said Tony Jones, who met Baker through Baker’s sister. “He was like my hero.”

Baker represented the U.S. on the 1977 Junior Olympics basketball team, playing alongside the likes of Magic Johnson and other future NBA stars, according to his former high school coach George Marshall.

“He was a tremendous basketball player, and certainly gave a lot to Jeffersonville on the basketball court,” Marshall said. “He was a good kid, a good teammate and certainly one of the better ballplayers in the country.”

Baker played basketball at Indiana University under legendary coach Bob Knight. But Knight dismissed him and two teammates from the team for allegations of marijuana use during his sophomore year.

Baker transferred to Eastern Kentucky University, where his play earned him first-team honors on the all-Ohio Valley Conference team in 1981.

Baker was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in the third round of the 1981 NBA draft, but did not see action in the pros.

“He was a great basketball player,” brother Drake Baker said. “He got in a little trouble in life and that was it.”

The 1990s saw the start of a tumultuous period for Baker. In 1990, Baker was convicted of three felony charges relating to the distribution of cocaine. Baker was convicted of similar charges in 1994, 1997 and 2002, his longest prison term of seven years coming with his most recent conviction.