Surging Haslett girls basketball team, community rallying behind coach Ross Baker

Brian Calloway
Lansing State Journal
The Haslett bench wears light blue warm up shirts reading 'Vikings Strong' in honor of their coach Ross Baker during the first quarter on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, at DeWitt High School.

DEWITT - Ella McKinney and the Haslett girls basketball team have been one of the hottest in the Lansing area over the second half of the season.

And assistant coach Dave Miller believes that success has been all about the Vikings coming together in the face of adversity.

Haslett (13-6) has rallied in the absence of coach Ross Baker and enters Friday's regular-season finale having won eight of its last nine. 

Baker left the team in mid-January after being diagnosed with cancer. The Vikings rattled off eight straight wins for their coach over the last month and have extended their support in many other ways.

"The eight in a row was all rallying for him," Miller said. "It was just playing hard for him. I’m sure It was. They were easier to coach because they had something to strive for.

"We think of him every day. To be honest, it was hard for me the first two weeks. I was glad we started out on the road the first four games I coached because I walk into practice and you’re used to seeing the guy you coached with for a couple years. It felt empty and it was hard at first. Now we’re adjusting, and it’s just what life is and what we’ve got to do. We’ve just got to face it. He’s facing it."

Haslett's head coach Ross Baker calls out to a player during the second quarter on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, at Haslett High School. DeWitt won 50-33.

Over the last week, players and community members have sported light blue shirts with "Viking Strong" displayed on the front and "Team Baker" on the back. Players had a hand in the shirt project.

Miller, who is neighbors with Baker, said the support received from the community and beyond has been unbelievable. Opponents have even extended support and the St. Johns girls basketball team wore violet ribbons on its shoes when the teams met last week.

“He’s in good spirits," Miller said. "He told me he would be back in May and I’m holding him to that. I’m still in contact with him. I don’t bring up basketball, but he does. He still wants to know what’s going on with the team and things like that. We’re trying to get his mind focused on what he has to do obviously."

Contact Brian Calloway at bcalloway@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.