Culture is one of the defining traits for a majority of successful teams, regardless of sport or activity. Having a collection of individuals who understand and buy-in to these ideals typically allow everything else to naturally fall in place. Take the Carolina Riptide 2023 (formerly Team HUSL) as a prime representative of a squad who is arguably as united as any team in the Carolinas. How? Well, like most of these Riptide teams, their coach—Jamey Baker—is as important as anyone on the actual roster. He has instilled a unique culture within this group, utilizing a blend of love, knowledge, and sheer intensity to get the best out of these young prospects. Coach Baker has two main ideals (or rules) for his players: outwork everyone and love each other.
Although the last line might seem like a foreign concept to many, their closeness on and off the court is what makes this group so competitive. The addition of Coach Baker to the Riptide only further solidifies their desire to have stand-up people within their program. He’s a tough motivator who genuinely knows how to push his players towards success. Add in his assistant coaches in Mike Decuir and Kelly Bennett, and this team has all the makings of an extremely relentless group. We spoke to Coach Baker, and he provided a ton of personal insight on the team:
“Culture is paramount with this team, and the ten guys on this roster epitomize maximum effort and being a family. The competition at these Phenom tournaments is top notch, and that’s why we play in almost all of their events. Most games are played on really thin margins, and we face so many talented teams. It seems that every weekend we are going up against kids with multiple offers, players who were All-Conference or even received Player of the Year honors. We love and embrace this challenge! Iron sharpens iron. Our goal is to develop each individual. Some guys can reach the next level and some cannot. Either way, we want each player to maximize his potential. Each player could be recognized for their effort and commitment to this team. We have an incredible family feel to this team, and that’s the byproduct of the players and parents. We preach development in order to become better players for their high school, and we prioritize high school sports. This area is blessed with great high school basketball and great coaches. We are fortunate to have two assistant coaches who bring so much to the team. Mike Decuir and Kelly Bennett know and love the game. Mike does an outstanding job in skill development and tying the right drills into performance. Kelly epitomizes relationship and communication with the guys in order to get the best from each player. Their respective game day advice and coaching have been huge in 2021. Above all else, I am incredibly thankful to coach this group.”
Majority of this group has played together throughout the years, but Coach Baker has put forth multiple new additions to bolster their success and overall upside as a group. Due to having seven guards and three interior pieces (forwards and posts), their team isn’t necessarily huge. However, these players consistently show a desire and willingness to play multiple positions or bigger than their size would imply. The Carolina Riptide 2023 really embrace playing for each other, so let’s take a look at the makeup of their roster (with insight/assistance from Coach Baker)…
6’2 Jy Gladden (Legion Collegiate) is a new addition to the team this year, and he’s been a vital piece since joining. Gladden possesses a high IQ and has shown the ability to play all five positions while doing everything on the court. Though he has had many games when he led the Riptide in scoring, his all-around game is his calling card. He’s also a great defender and values both ends of the floor. He simply does what’s needed for Coach Baker. He’s very coachable and provides grit to this squad.
6’2 JJ Mata (Clover) is someone who has been with Coach Baker for quite a while, and made leaps every year. Mata is versatile guard with length and the ability to establish himself at all three levels. His length and quickness stand out on defense, too. Mata plays on and off the ball and is great in transition. He’s a competitive, determined player.
6’0 Malik McCullough (Chester) is fresh off receiving All-Region honors for his high school, where he typically operates as a point guard. However, the Riptide utilize him in every possible way. He is a strong, physical prospect that plays much bigger than his listed size would imply. McCullough is always at or near the top in scoring and rebounding and is willing to do whatever it takes. His tough, competitive nature always seems to shine through.
5’9 Jake Baker (Clover) is unlike most coach’s kids, who receive special treatment and extra shots/touches. He actually works extremely hard to find opportunities as a cog within their bigger scheme. Baker almost always draws the opposition’s leading scorer to defend. He’s an outstanding defender who has proven capable of shutting down some elite scoring wings. Baker does so much outside a box score: from handling and distributing the ball to defending and knocking down shots at a high clip. He has great range, high IQ, incredible activity, useful in press. Baker provides the team with a gritty glue-guy with a blue-collar mentality.
6’0 Hunter Decuir (Clover) is a lethal shooting threat for this team. He possesses range that keeps expanding, while still getting better at everything. Decuir is a new addition to the roster and has quickly become a lethal threat from outside the arc. He also utilizes his length to attack inside, position himself properly to force turnovers, and highlight versatility defensively. Decuir is a hard worker who is also playing up as a member of the Class of 2024.
5’10 Deuce Fair (Northwestern) stands out as Coach Baker’s most energetic player on the roster. He’s absolutely is relentless on both ends. Fair plays fast, has really developed his midrange jumper, and is so tough in transition. He plays much bigger than his listed height would imply. Deuce is a great on-ball defender and makes his presence felt within a press. He also rebounds and handles the ball well. Deuce is an all-around player with toughness and nonstop energy.
6’8 Nate Self (York Prep) is the main representative of size within this roster. He’s a back-end enforcer who helps clean up mistakes on defense. Self has been with Coach Baker for years, and always draws the opponents’ best post. He keeps improving on both ends through hitting the boards, blocking shots, and developing a nice touch on his three-pointers. Self competes hard while knowing and embracing his role as our center, but can also step out on the perimeter. He plays with an edge and never backs down.
6’1 Zi Dixon (York) is a very deserving representative of the “warrior” title, especially around the basket, He uses strength and quick feet to finish around the rim. Dixon defends and finishes in the post using positioning, strength, and footwork. He has taken more charges than the rest of the team combined. Dixon is also a great rebounder who does everything on the court. He’s another guy who does so much more than the box score indicates. Dixon is a gritty glue-guy.
6’3 Harley Lail (Clover) is playing up and keeps improving throughout the process. As a prospect in the Class of 2024, he’s the ultimate teammate who uses his size to shield, rebound, and finish. Lail possesses a lethal midrange jumper and continues to get stronger with the ball in his hands. Given his work ethic, he seems very likely to trend upward over the foreseeable future.
6’2 Quentin Houston (Legion Collegiate) is easily among the top offensive weapons on this roster. He’s a microwave in terms of providing instant offense with deep range. Houston is incredibly active and energetic, utilizing his length and quickness effectively on the defensive end. His love for the game is contagious, and he’s willing to play any role for this group. He can guard multiple positions. Houston is also a useful defender in the half-court or press situations. He displays deep range, a quick release, and the ability to handles the ball. Houston is a very coachable player.