Dec. 31, 2010
Most athletes have someone in their past, be it a parent, a relative, a friend or a coach, who got them started on their road to success, nudged them in the direction of their particular sport; someone who fostered a "love of the game" where one did not necessarily exist.
Not Carl Baptiste, though. His love of basketball is solely his own.
"I don't remember it myself," the Saint Joseph's forward shared, "but my parents said that when I was little I used to stand at the window and point at the people playing basketball."
Knowing that standing and pointing wouldn't get him anywhere, the 6-foot-8 sophomore has spent the last two decades refining his game, working his way up from the local rec leagues as a toddler all the way to Hawk Hill. He recalled his first foray into organized basketball fondly.
"There's a YMCA by my house and that was the first league I was in," he said. "We used to go play on six-foot hoops. I was four or five years old."
From there, the Pittstown, New Jersey native credits his first high school coach, Charlie Brown, with refining his skills and helping turn him into a Division I basketball player.
"He really motivated me," Baptiste said. "Once I started high school he worked with me on my `big man' moves...he really made me believe I could play at the next level."
As a senior, he averaged 21.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game for North Hunterdon on his way to numerous accolades, including a McDonald's All-American nomination. His fondest memory of his high school career, however, was a team accomplishment that he played a major hand in.
"We were playing the team that was number one in our conference," he reminisced. "I hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game and we ended up going on to win in overtime."
At the collegiate level, Baptiste had a number of schools to sift through before choosing Saint Joseph's, including conference rivals Rhode Island and Temple. In the end, however, he chose Hawk Hill, citing an eclectic mix of reasons of why he now wears Crimson and Gray.
"On my visits, I felt a connection with the coaches," he said. "I felt like they were sincere and they really meant what they were saying.
"The location...is a really good spot," he continued. "There are so many other schools around us. And especially if you're trying to get a job after college, there are a lot of internships in the city."
Now that he's here, though, it's not all fun and games for the sophomore forward. When discussing the academic side of being a student-athlete, Baptiste did not hesitate to reveal his most and least favorite classes.
"My least favorite? Philosophy," he chuckled. "My favorite is marketing."
Good thing, too - it's his chosen field of study.
Baptiste is one of five Hawks to hail from the state of New Jersey, along with senior Ronald Roberts, Jr. While he feels a bond with the entire team, Baptiste admitted that the shared origins of that quintet help their bond run a little deeper.
"We definitely have a connection because we're all from New Jersey," he said. "I actually played against Justin and Ronald in AAU ball, so I knew those guys before I came here."
In addition to the large contingent from the Garden State, the Hawk roster features nine players in their first or second year of collegiate basketball. So, despite having just 40 college games under his belt, Baptiste is actually one of the squad's elder statesmen. He is philosophical on the topic, as he sees the potential for what could be while dealing with the early growing pains associated with such a young squad.
"It's very lively, but at the same time, we can be mistake-prone," he said. "There's a lot about the game we need to learn that we haven't really put all together yet...it's a giant jump from high school to Division I.
"There are real moments where we shine," he continued. "Our future is really bright, but it's just putting all the little things together.
"I think once we can do that, we're going to be a great team."
Off the court, Baptiste isn't all that different from your everyday college student. He plays video games just like everyone else, and cites the "Call of Duty" series as a favorite.
When the console is turned off, however, you can generally find his television tuned to the same station: the "Worldwide Leader."
"I'm an avid ESPN watcher," he said. "I'm also a fan on `Entourage' and `Eastbound and Down.'"
And for anyone looking for a recommendation, Baptiste points toward HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" as his favorite new show.
An only child, Baptiste has a close relationship with his parents and the rest of his family, evidenced by his parents' attendance at SJU home games. Despite not having any siblings of his own, his parents are both one of four children, meaning the holiday dinner tables are chock full of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Both sides of his family, while having separate traditions, share a common meeting place.
"We always make two trips," he said, "and we go to each of my grandmother's houses."
As the Hawks had a brief respite between contests at Boston University and Holy Cross, Baptiste was able to make the trip home for Christmas this year. It's one of the few chances he gets during the year to return to Pittstown, and he always does his best to take advantage of the hometown cuisine when he can.
"I usually go right to my friend's house and more often than not I get a slice of buffalo chicken pizza from this place right down the street from my house," he said, smiling at the thought.
The trip home for Christmas is extra special for Baptiste, as his birthday falls during the winter break. A lot of kids with birthdays feel like they get shortchanged on the gift front. Don't count Baptiste as one of those.
"Actually, I felt like I got more [presents]," he laughed.
Baptiste's birthday, however, falls a little closer to New Year's than Christmas. In fact, he celebrates his 20th birthday today, December 31. His wish list is one gift long.
"I just want a win," he said.
No doubt his teammates will be doing everything they can to make this birthday a happy one.