Charles Baines is a professional basketball player from Makemie Park, a small town on the eastern shores of Delaware.
Located roughly 150 miles from Washington, D.C., Makemie Park is not known for being a basketball hub, but even in a city with less than a few hundred people, finding a court was never an issue for Baines and his cousins.
“I grew up with a lot of family, and we were always outside playing basketball,” Baines recalls of his youth.
“We were in the country, so there wasn’t a lot to do, but there was always something to do.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Baines says that when he first picked up a basketball, he was terrible, so much so that his cousins hesitated to allow him on the court.
“I was always the last kid to get picked,” Baines chuckles, citing his inability to catch the ball or dribble as reasons why his cousins treated him like the playground’s social pariah.
But Baines’ designation as an outcast didn’t last long.
Through consistent practice, he slowly improved his basketball skills.
“I was still the last kid to get picked, but my cousins were more willing to let me play,” Baines says.
Despite the marked improvement in Baines’ skills, he still found himself on the outside looking in after trying out for his middle school team.
“Seventh grade was a tough year for me,” he says. “I remember after tryouts going to look at the list of names on the wall of kids who made the team, and my name wasn’t on it.”
Considering that he had once been ridiculed by his cousins and was now disregarded by coaches, Baines would have been forgiven for abandoning the hardwood in favor of pursuing alternative dreams, but the now-phenom refused to acquiesce to outside opinions and instead worked even harder to refine his skills.
“When I first got cut I immediately went home and told my mom that I was going to make the team the next year,” Baines says.
Twelve months later, Baines’ prediction came to fruition.
As an athletic eighth grader, coaches first tasked Baines with clamping down on an opposing team’s primary scorer, a role the 6-1 shooting guard wholeheartedly embraced.
“My job has always been to shut down a team’s best player, and I take pride in that fact,” Baines remarks.
By the time Baines moved on to Arcadia High School, players and coaches were well versed on the defensive prowess Baines possessed, but despite amassing an impressive resume throughout his high school career, Baines still had trouble finding a landing spot to play college basketball.
With few options, Baines then connected with a cousin from out of state who encouraged him to enroll at Richard Bland College, a school three hours away from home that was in need of raw but talented hoopers.
“I decided to go to Richard Bland College, and that made me the first person from my city to ever play college basketball,” Baines says, but right away the level of competition on the court intensified, consequently serving Baines with a healthy dose of humility.
“I was in a whole different world,” he mentions.
While it didn’t take Baines long to acclimate to playing defense at the collegiate level, his offensive game sputtered, with coaches telling him he would need to revamp his approach if he ever wished to crack the team’s rotation.
Following his freshman season, Baines elected to stay on campus for the summer, becoming a tireless gym rat who was addicted to improving his craft.
“I didn’t go home,” Baines says of that crucial offseason. “I stayed on campus and practiced as much as I could, usually three to four times per day.”
This included long nights in an empty gym where Baines wouldn’t allow himself to leave until he made 2,000 shots.
“I was in there until my arms hurt, and even then, I would usually stay a little longer,” he says.
This strict regimen paid off because Baines came into training camp the next fall with a bigger arsenal of moves, most notably the ability to consistently knock down perimeter shots.
“A lot of players wilt when their coaches are critical, but I’m not easily offended,” Baines insists.
“When my coaches got on me, I chose to view their criticisms as a chance to grow.”
Much like his idol, the late Kobe Bryant, Baines assumes full responsibility for what happens on the court, whether he is stuck on the bench or routinely dropping thirty on unsuspecting defenders during a hot streak.
This mentality has proven effective for Baines, and it is also a key reason why in one season he went from the end of the bench at Richard Bland College to receiving scholarship offers from several D-II schools.
“In both life and basketball, it’s not about where you start,” Baines says.
“Looking back, a lot of guys were more skilled or talented than me, but I never put limitations on myself because I knew I could outwork most people, and when you outwork people, in the process you can also become a better overall player.”
In addition to developing stronger physical skills, Baines also leveled up mentally, fostering an acute sense for the game of basketball that gave him a slight edge over his opponents, something that often separates players as they face stiffer competition.
That being said, when Baines later accepted a scholarship offer from Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota, his evolution as a basketball player, and a person, was far from complete.
“At Crossroads, I went right back to the end of the bench, which of course was challenging, but to be honest, overcoming obstacles on the basketball court paled in comparison to enduring winters in Minnesota,” Baines says with a congenial smile.
He jokes that after three days he was ready to depart from The Land of 10,000 Lakes, but Baines also maintains that living in Minnesota forced him to adopt a different kind of physical and mental toughness.
“There were some days that it was so cold that I had to walk backwards to class in order to avoid having my face become paralyzed from the wind smacking against my cheeks,” Baines says.
While life off the court was a blizzard of agony for the Delaware product, on the court Baines found a way to ascend, to the point that after two productive years, Baines hired an agent and began fielding offers from professional basketball clubs overseas.
“I like to do impossible things,” Baines says, noting that when he first announced his intention to play professional basketball, there were detractors who decried the fact that, among other things, Crossroads College didn’t offer the litmus test needed in order to prove that Baines could perform against world-class competition.
Predictably, Baines dismissed the negativity and has since had stints in numerous locales around the globe, which includes popular tourist spots like Australia and Spain.
“Australia is like America, only they have better weather,” Baines mentions.
“And in Spain, basketball was so big over there that even though there was a language barrier, I didn’t need an interpreter to understand how passionate fans are about the game.”
Of course, achieving basketball success has brought joy into Baines’ life, but he also hopes that others see his relentless determination and use that as motivation to pursue their own dreams and ambitions.
“I don’t have all the answers, but one thing I know is that if you work hard and have faith, that will open a lot of doors,” Baines says.
As he now approaches thirty, Baines is still open to jetting off somewhere new, provided the situation is the right fit.
He currently is in talks with a club in Portugal, and he also has had preliminary conversations with G League teams, a route that if taken would give Baines an excellent chance at breaking into the NBA.
Yet, regardless of where Baines ends up in the coming months, one thing is certain:
His journey is no longer just about himself.
“Part of what motivates me to keep playing is the fact that I know that I’m not just playing for myself. There are kids who are looking up to me, and I want to show them that through basketball, as well as other ventures in life, anything is possible,” he explains.
“And this is important because a lot of people don’t live life. They just exist, but things don’t have to be that way. That’s why I see it as my responsibility to use my platform to help other people.” QS
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