If Loyola University’s basketball season was a Broadway production, Jake Baughman would be on the stage crew. He’s fine with that.
Baughman is a behind-the-scenes guy for the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champion Ramblers. When healthy, he is a regular in practice on the scout team … basketball’s equivalent to a set builder.
He’s fine with that, too.
An all-conference performer in basketball and football at Central Catholic High School, Baughman has adjusted nicely since enrolling at Loyola in August 2016 as a recruited walk-on. He is filling a need, manning a post.
Any good team must have players willing to do what Baughman does. So while he did not play in Friday’s 54-50 quarterfinal win over Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Tournament, he was in uniform and part of the team in every way that matters.
“I kind of realized it’s not about being under the lights. It’s about working hard and doing your role,” Baughman said. “Coach (Porter) Moser preaches that … everybody has a role on this team.
“I might not play in the game every game we come out, but I’m doing everything in practice on scout team and playing just as much or more than anybody in practice.”
That changed in December when Baughman, a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard, had what he termed “an old high school injury” flare up. It led to surgery and kept Baughman out of action until recently. Friday was his first game back in uniform.
His day at Scottrade Center included cheering on his teammates from the bench, high-fiving them or giving pats on the back at timeouts. Top-seeded Loyola had to work hard while grinding out a four-point win over No. 9 seed UNI.
The Ramblers got through it the only way they know how … together.
“This team is awesome. It’s unlike any other college team,” Baughman said. “I have a lot of friends who play college basketball and they talk about their team chemistry. But we definitely have the best team chemistry and that’s part of the reason we’re so good.
“That’s what it comes down to. We don’t care who scores, we don’t care how we win. It just comes down to everybody has a role.”
Give Baughman credit for accepting his.
At Central, he was the quarterback on the conference championship football team. The ball was in his hands on every play. On the basketball court, he started and played the majority of the minutes, earning second-team All-Area honors as a senior.
Now, he will be receiving a Missouri Valley Conference championship ring, or watch, or whatever Loyola chooses to commemorate its first outright league title since 1985.
That’s pretty good stuff.
“It’s a great experience,” Baughman said. “I’m just trying to absorb it all and enjoy it. I want to do my part to get these guys ready for each game on scout team … do our thing and make that dream (NCAA bid) come true.”
It would be the perfect capper to the Ramblers’ breakout season. The only way to get there is to win the Valley Tournament.
Should that happen, Baughman will get his turn on the ladder Sunday to cut a strand from the Scottrade Center net.
It would make for a good story to share next summer with Matt Chastain, the former LeRoy all-stater now at Illinois State.
Baughman and Chastain are friends from playing on summer teams together while growing up. They enrolled at Loyola together last year, with Chastain a scholarship player.
A knee injury early last season sidelined Chastain and he later transferred to ISU, where he is sitting out this year per NCAA rules.
The friendship continues.
“I know he missed home and that’s why he went back. It’s weird seeing him there (at ISU), but I’m happy for their success too,” Baughman said.
“Whenever I’m home in the summer we’ll work out. We both work out at the (Bloomington-Normal) Athlete Factory all the time. We’ll go over there and work out with each other. I know he got cleared (medically) and is getting back into everything. He’ll be really good there.”
Baughman is happy about that, but he’s not going anywhere. He chose Loyola largely for its academics and is succeeding as a business finance major.
He’s also having a ball being part of the basketball production.
It’s been a season-long hit.