To get to college basketball’s version of heaven — the NCAA Tournament — this Angel had to go through some hell.
The day before they left for Friday’s matchup with No. 4 seed Texas A&M on the Aggies’ home court in College Station, Texas, the Wright State women were in their team lounge at the Setzer Pavilion enjoying some laughs as they played a word game and ate barbeque.
Coach Katrina Merriweather looked around the room and finally focused on Angel Baker, her backup freshman point guard, who was sitting on a nearby couch.
“She has quite a story,” Merriweather said quietly.
“Her ‘brother’ was murdered… And she got caught up in a fight on the court as a sophomore and it cost her and her team the rest of the season. She really went through a lot.”
And how did Baker come through it?
“She’s the best freshman we’ve ever signed at Wright State,” Merriweather said without pause, even as Kim Demmings, the Raiders’ director of basketball operations and former star player, sat right across from her.
Demmings was a two-time Horizon League Player of the Year. Her 2,677 career points remain the most in school and league history. And it was just five years ago that she and Tay’ler Mingo led WSU to its only other berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“Kim and I have had this conversation,” Merriweather said. “Kim was a phenomenal, fluid jump shooter, but if we’re talking about just pure skill – someone who can handle the ball, pass, get to the rim, make a three, make a pull up, do every facet – that’s Angel.”
Although considered the “best” signee ever at WSU, Baker was purposely bypassed by several schools who once had her in their sights.
Their change of course had a lot to do with the power of the Internet and social media — which often can be deceptive and sometimes can be deadly.
Angel knows about both of those possibilities.
One nearly cost her her career. One helped kill the 18-year-old boy she still calls her “brother.”
‘My whole life had changed’
Teneia Yobbe, who raised Angel as a single-parent mom, said her youngest child began playing basketball as a third grader.
“I had a court in my driveway for years,” Yobbe said. “Her three older brothers played out there all the time and they had no mercy in their hearts for her. They really schooled her. That’s why she plays so real now.
“People called her Baby Jordan when she was little and when she’d walk into the other team’s gym, some kids hated seeing her. They’d be like, ‘Oh no, Baby Jordan is here!’”
Baker made the varsity as a freshman at Pike High School in Indianapolis and started as a sophomore. That 2015-16 season, the team was 14-4 when it faced rival Ben Davis in a Saturday night showdown in mid-January.
The game was rough throughout and then came a nasty flare-up on the court involving several players from both teams.
A limited video clip caught the end of one confrontation. A Ben Davis player was down on the court and Angel stomped on her the way pro wrestlers do to each other. The clip went viral and Angel suddenly was painted as the devil.
She and her mom both said the kick had come after the other girl had punched Angel in the face.
Though she felt unfairly singled out, Angel — at her mom’s prompting — didn’t duck responsibility.
“I told her, ‘Baby, God can turn any situation around so we need to think positive,’” Yobbe said. “’But we also need to do the right thing.’
“I wrote a letter of apology to the IHSAA (Indiana High School Athletic Association) and to the principals of both schools. I wanted to let them now that’s not the type of home she comes from.”
Angel was interviewed by a local TV reporter and was contrite on air: “I want to apologize to my school. I just want to apologize for everything that happened, for everything I could have changed and my reaction.
“Now I have to move forward and stay positive.”
Yobbe said her daughter “wasn’t taught to fight, she was taught to play basketball. She was defending herself, but regardless, sometimes we have to step up and be the bigger person and apologize. And that’s what she did.”
The IHSAA still suspended both the Pike and Ben Davis teams for the rest of the season. Angel was suspended from school for five days.
That season she had been drawing interest from several Division I colleges and, in fact, she said the night of that incident “there were some colleges coaches in the stands…That’s why the word spread fast.”
Soon some colleges began backing away from her recruitment.
“She was heartbroken,” Yobbe said. “She was discouraged and depressed. She wished her life wasn’t defined by a few seconds of video. That wasn’t her.”
And then came an even more numbing blow.
Just 18 days later, Jerrold Parker – the 18-year-old who lived across the street from her house, who played on the hoop on her driveway, who always looked out for her, the one she called her “brother” and her mom said was her “godson,” – was shot and killed in what Angel quietly described as “an internet beef.”
Parker, who was an athlete at Pike, had tweeted that some other guy “couldn’t rap.”
That guy took offense and showed up at an apartment complex where Parker was.
A fight ensued andParker was shot three times. He died at the hospital soon after.
The shooter eventually accepted a plea and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and carrying a handgun without a license. He was sentenced to six years.
“I just got so sad, it really broke me down,” Angel said. “All of a sudden my whole life had changed.”
Love, support at WSU
Facing the cameras after the fight, Angel had promised to do better. She said she would show people who she really was.
And she’s done just that.
Her junior season she led Pike to the 4A state championship game in Indiana. As a senior, she won first-team all-state honors.
While Xavier and a few other schools showed interest, Angel said Wright State never wavered on her thanks to Merriweather and WSU assistant Ashley Barlow, whose dad had been one of her assistant coaches at Pike.
“Trina really believed in me and stood with me, even in the roughest times,” she said.
“They were honest with me and when I came here on my visit, I felt like I was at a place that actually believed in me.”
She opened this season making 8 of 11 field goal attempts for 21 points at CSU Bakersfield. A few games later she made 9 of 13 shots for 24 points against Kent State.
In late December she had a 27-point outing versus Cleveland State and last month she scored 20 on Detroit Mercy.
Although she comes off the bench, Angel and starting point guard, senior Emily Vogelpohl, both are averaging 9.2 points per game, third best on the team
The NCAA Tournament, she said, “is a dream come true.”
Meanwhile, her mom has continued to take an active role in her life.
Just three weeks ago — after she got her job transferred from Indianapolis — she moved to the Dayton area.
“I was killing myself trying to work and drive back and forth from Indianapolis for everything,” she said.
“I’m so proud of my daughter and the way she’s come through everything and I want to be here for as many of the good times as possible now.
“I’m ecstatic about the NCAA Tournament, but the thing that really thrills me is that my daughter has found a place here that loves and supports her.
“I love Trina. I love the other coaches. And I love Wright State. I told her if we did the right thing, God could turn any situation around. And that’s what’s happened. She’s found the perfect place.”
Sounds like this Angel has found heaven after all.