Vindication time for big basketballer Justin Baker
JUSTIN Baker doesn't get missed in a crowd.
He is two metres tall (6ft 7in), has a noticeable Californian accent and a personality as big as his size 'massive' shoes.
Basketball fans from Gladstone will remember the power forward from when he was in Gladstone in 2013, one of two imports in the Port City Power squad.
Back then, the Power looked destined for a play-off spot in a northern pool jam-packed with talent and the best teams in the Queensland Basketball League.
Everything "fell apart on us," as Baker puts it, and the team was bundled out with a 10 win-six loss season.
At home with his family for a decent spell for the first time in eight years, Baker got a call in January from his mate Illiwa Baldwin.
The Power centre preached the new regime and focus under head coach Derek Rucker.
A quick talk with Rucker convinced Baker, he was coming back to Gladstone.
"I like everything Derek said and from the first time I spoke everything fell into place," Baker said.
At the time, Baker was on a hiatus from basketball.
He watched it, he fraternised in those circles, and he kept fit.
But he hadn't signed up to a team nor was he doing regular ball practice.
Coming off stints in Israel and Finland after leaving Gladstone in September 2013, Baker was out of gas and motivation to play another heavy season.
He needed some time, despite his Finnish team being dumped out in the first round of play-offs.
Baker added up the months he would have left, knowing he needed to get back on court sometime, and decided Gladstone was the place to be.
He arrived on April 2.
Everything immediately felt different to the Sacramento (California) native.
"Atmosphere man, everyone is here to win," he said.
"Last time I came it was not that we were not here to win, but it had been a possibility before that.
"When I showed up we had aspirations to compete."
The 2013 team began running on all cylinders.
Baker got to play with Chris Goulding, a Boomer at the time, along with fellow American Braydon Hobbs and an influential point guard in Australian Shaun Gleeson.
The team changed goals halfway to make a run deep beyond the regular season.
Baker then injured his ankle, severely affecting his practice time.
He was able to co-erce his body into playing close to 40 minutes when game day rolled around, but that usually became a monumental effort.
Gleeson's fate took a turn for the worse, a knee injury ending his year.
Blair Smith had been out for nearly the entire year.
Hobbs had injured his ribs from hard fouls at the basket.
The Power missed the play-offs.
At the time, Baker left on a plane with a sour taste in his mouth, and it was not just airline food doing what it does best.
But he never thought he'd get the chance to come back.
The 26-year-old kept in touch with the players here, especially Baldwin (big men often stay more connected with each other more than the regular-sized guards).
Now Baker has spent five months brewing up emotions back in Sacramento, enough time to create a dream.
The call from Rucker filled the motivation tank again.
Landing in Gladstone, the foul taste was gone (maybe he brought his own snacks).
Only one thing made Baker come back to Gladstone, and he is here to make it happen.
"You only come here if you love basketball," he said with a laugh.
"This is not Brisbane. It is not a city like that.
"I want to get a chance to do what we were not able to complete last year.
"I know coming in that anything less is not an option."
Baker talks of the QBL Championship.
So far, the Power has had one pre-season game - against defending champions Rockhampton.
Today, they get a shot at runners-up Mackay.
Baker and fellow-import Ray Willis did not play last week, but he watched with intrigue.
When he finally gets the chance to play, the competition had better watch out.
"I want a chance at vindication," he said.