Hakeem Baxter is the leading scorer for the UMES men’s basketball team. That might not qualify as a revelation, until you learn that Baxter is a freshman.
The 6-foot-2, 170-pound guard is averaging 17.2 points per game, is tied for second on the team in steals (five total) and ranks third in rebounds (4.8 per game) and fourth in assists (1.5 per game). Baxter’s debut has stunned even Hawks coach Frankie Allen.
“You don’t expect that kind of success so quickly from a freshman,” Allen said Tuesday afternoon. “He’s off to a very good start. The thing about Hakeem is, he’s a competitor. I watched him play in high school [at Philadelphia Electric & Technology], and he’s just one of those guys that brings it every night.
"He’s happy he’s having some success, but like I told him earlier in the day, all of a sudden, now people will see how well you can handle success, because now in teams’ scouting reports, he’s going to be somebody that they target. I think he understands that, but sometimes when you’re a freshman, you don’t expect that success that early. But Hakeem has said to me, ‘That individual stuff doesn’t mean that much to me. I’m all about winning.’ That’s the type of kid that he is.”
Baxter led all scorers with 28 points in Monday night’s 64-59 loss to UMBC. But Allen conceded there have been times when Baxter’s precociousness catches up to him and he makes the kind of mistakes common of young players.
“But then there are other times when he has the maturity that you don’t ordinarily see from a young player,” Allen said. “That’s one of those things where you feel good about seeing that type of performance. That’s where the mindset and focus come in and the understanding of the game comes in. … I think he’s looking at this as a learning situation, and he’s still learning the position and what it takes to win.”
Baxter won’t be able to improve his numbers for a while, as UMES (2-4) does not not play again until Dec. 15 at Oregon State because of final exams. It’s not the most opportune situation, but Allen said the break should be good for the players.
“Coaches don’t really like long layoffs, but that’s a necessary part of the schedule,” he said. “You have exam periods and that’s always a difficult time. We would have liked to play a game this weekend because our exams don’t start until Monday, but just the way the schedule goes, we weren’t able to do that. But it’s not bad because they get to be in class. We want to balance the academics. … Even though it’s a long layoff, we get back and play a couple games that week and then have a home game right before the Christmas break. We don’t really like it, but it’s a necessary evil, and it’s up to us to have some quality practices during this time.”