02/27/06 — A close look at history

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A close look at history

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on February 27, 2006 2:32 PM

Time flies. Just ask Pikeville native Gene Baker. Baker attended and played basketball at Wake Forest High School from 1952-56.

At the same time, Dickie Hemric, who has owned the Atlantic Coast Conference scoring record for 50 years, was dominating the paint for the Demon Deacons before the school moved to Winston-Salem.

"It's been 50 years ... how 'bout that," Baker said with a sense of surprise.

Like most records, Hemric's 2,857 point-mark fell on Saturday when Duke senior J.J. Redick eclipsed that total with an 11-point output against Temple.

In a recent Associated Press story, Hemric, now living in North Canton, Ohio, said "I don't feel any bittersweet feelings ... Nothing is forever."

But, his admirers from the age of Chuck Taylor's and sock-hops, well, that's a somewhat different story.

"All of Hemric's points were in the lane and at the line. He had a beautiful hook shot. Nobody shoots it like that anymore," Baker said. "A lot of J.J.'s points are three's, so it's not a fair comparison. I'm sad to see it fall, but records are made to be broken.

"J.J.'s will stand for a long time like Hemric's. He's (Redick) one more of a ball player."

No, Baker may not have been a personal friend of Hemric's, but he was there. When Hemric, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward, was honing his "granny shot" from the free-throw line after practice, Baker would often stand under the basket and toss the ball back to Hemric at the stripe. He'd catch it, dribble a few times, bend at the knees, then more-often-than-not swish the nets with his underhanded style.

"Hemric was the only person I saw that shot free throws that way. All of the players from back then had such unique shots, some had the two-handed, set shot," he said.

Obviously, the game has changed since then. About the only time you'll see a hook or an granny shot these days is in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

Baker, who coached two seasons of girls basketball at Charles B. Aycock in the late 1960s, takes the good and the bad with those differences.

"The 3-point line has made it exciting, and it runs the scores up. The game is more exciting in a sense ... they used to play a lot of zone, now it's more man-to-man," he said.

Baker is still a fan of Wake Forest basketball, despite still being admittedly disappointed the campus was relocated from northern Wake County to Winston-Salem in '56. He offers his own reasons for the lack of success for the Deacons this year.

"I think the players are too greedy. They try to drive too much, instead of passing off ... too much dribbling," he said.

Baker seemed to have his fair share of versatility in his own game. Standing at barely 6-0 his senior year, he moved from forward to center, then to point guard as his coach realized he was the best ball-handler on the team. Baker finished his final year with an average of 12 points per game.

Baker's three children, Stewart, Tina and Lee, all graduated from Aycock. He'll have a granddaughter at CBA next year, and he said she hopes to play tennis.

It may have been a half-century ago, but his own high school memories still don't seem that far away.

Hemric's record may have fallen, but Baker's fond recollections of an era-gone-by surely have not.