By Matthew Yoder
What is a dream if it is just words, void of action? Too often dreams vanish when neglected. That is not the story of Charles Baines. The 26-year-old native of Makemie Park knew at an early age he wanted to play professional basketball.
When he was 7, he attended a B.A. Walker basketball camp and the dream began. Baines had a road map. Ace Custis was an accomplished player to the south in Northampton County, just embarking on a successful college and professional career. Quickly a support system generated around Baines, to help navigate and inspire his own aspirations.
This past Monday, before the sun had found its place on the horizon, Baines was at the YMCA, stepping into jump shots from all angles of the court. Feeding him the ball was arguably his greatest fan and supporter, his own father, Charles Baines III. The elder Baines had just completed an overnight shift working in the Accomack County Sheriff’s Department but stepped into the gym with a real gleam in his eye, eager both to assist his son and talk about the process by which a dream was fulfilled.
Baines III is also an accomplished athlete, an active member of the USA kickboxing team, and a former North American champion in three weight classes. Basketball is, admittedly, not his greatest sport, but that has not stopped him from making himself present any chance he gets to work with his son in the gym. He spoke about his son with glowing pride, delving much into the mindset needed when nurturing the dreams of a child. “Tell kids something when they are small and they believe it, the most important thing to me was to be his hero, his influencer, I’m going to tell you what you can be,” Baines III said.
Harnessing his son’s dream was paramount to Baines, as it undeniably presented the opportunity to instill attributes of positivity and determination. “If you give a kid a dream, he’s less likely to be in other stuff, but you can’t just dream, you have to grind, and the key is to grind harder than the next man,” Baines III said.
The early days for Baines did not come easy. Like his professional idol, Kobe Bryant, Baines had a difficult time making the cut in middle school. His father bluntly stated the reaction that some gave to his son’s assertion that he wanted to play ball at the highest levels of the game. “Everybody laughed,” said Baines III. His fire was not doused. He “worked religiously,” his father proclaimed, lifting weights, shooting the ball tirelessly, and feeding off the positive influences that surrounded him, namely his mother, Annette Collins, and his grandmother, Elnora Marshall.
His family became a profound guiding force, with his cousin, Larry Marshall, offering support, and his sister, Brittany Young, as Baines pointed out, humbly fueling his fire by all the times she beat him one-on-one. Outside of family, Principal Shaun O’Shea and coach Maurice Williams also challenged him above and beyond, and his church family at Smyrna Assembly of Yahshua’s Disciples provided much spiritual strength. The playbook was evident, support with a healthy dose of self-will and drive. Baines looked at this, and ran with it, listening, absorbing, and now communicates as the embodiment of words in action.
Baines never lost a step Monday speaking about his journey while working on his form. “Life gives you what you work for. It’s just about believing in yourself,” Baines said. That same kid who was looked over when teams were chosen persisted, worked, and most importantly, listened. He vividly recalls the words of Cedrick Cooper, when Baines was 12 and playing AAU basketball. It was one of a number of profound moments in Baines’ ascension.
Cooper said, “Don’t let this basketball use you, but you use this basketball to take you all over the world.” Baines continued to work hard, made the team, and excelled at Arcadia High School. He moved to a junior college in Petersburg, Va., then jumped to play college ball in Rochester, Minn., at Crossroads College. Baines recalls 4 a.m. practices there testing his will but by no means breaking the strong foundation he had set in place.
After getting in touch with an agent, Baines’ pro career began to really take shape in Spain. Nothing was given to Baines, almost nothing worthwhile ever is, and Baines’ faith also plays heavily on his attitude toward life. “It was a process but that’s what it’s all about, the grind. It was my faith that kept me going when I wanted to give up,” said Baines.
As they talk, the themes the Baines men address are consistent. The two of them are both dressed in shirts this day paying homage to Baines’ brand called WorkByFaith. The words of the Baines men are simpatico. Also in sync are the pass and shoot drills that dominate the hour-plus practice. Shooting the ball is Baines’ game, though his father says he is far too modest to admit so. “He won’t tell you but they call him the Steph Curry of Australia,” Baines III said.
This is fun for the elder Baines. There is no denying that. It’s infectious to see a father so proud of his son. “This is my high time. As a father the greatest part is to get your kid to listen to you, sell his dream to him,” Baines III said. He talked about allowing his son space at the age of 18 to be a man, but that there were times that arose when guidance became necessary to stay focused. “We did have conversations about what it takes to make it with no distractions,” said Baines III. The goal was always to speak the truth and lead by example, thus here they are, father offering positive feedback as son shoots tirelessly, precisely.
“You’re not Charles anymore, you’re Mr. 10 out of 10, anytime you get tired run laps, it’s mindset, mindset is everything,” Baines III said. When shots fell short, Baines sprinted the sidelines and jumped right back into action, touching nothing but net as his father continued to cheer on.
The world game is largely on hiatus out of safety concerns, but prior to March, Baines’ journey had been approaching four years, taking him to Vietnam, in addition to Spain and Australia. The quality of play overseas is rapidly growing, bolstered both by American athletes, as well as some of the best talent of host countries and beyond. Baines said it’s not uncommon to find yourself playing in a number of countries in several leagues over the course of the year. Building team chemistry can be a challenge, but one Baines has developed the skill to offset. “You have to find out what motivates your teammates, and just come in, fill the gaps, and do everything they need.”
Travel, meals, and housing are all provided for, allowing for focus on one’s games, but in most countries, there is also a community outreach element to everyday life. This is not a challenge for Baines. He is very much a people person and relishes the chance to engage the community and become immersed in the local culture.
“You’ve got to get out and see the world or else it will be a long seven to nine months. I want to get out and explore, it’s important to be friendly and approachable, I want to make a difference and feel like when I’m gone my presence is still there,” said Baines.
Crowd sizes for overseas games vary greatly, some games are broadcast on television, and some athletes are even featured on billboards. One thing is consistent, the appeal of many players is not lost on the children who come to watch, or host the players in their schools as part of outreach. “The kids think you’re Lebron James,” said Baines.
Baines is eager for the journey to start up again. That’s why he is here, not waiting on a phone call but working for the same dream that burned in him almost 20 years ago. That is his favorite part about the game itself. “I enjoy the work, the hard work you put in it, the process makes the destination fun,” said Baines.
While many countries look at the prospects of reopening, Baines is focused on staying game ready. He works out at a number of YMCAs in the area and also trains with Wyle Maddox in Chincoteague. Baines’ father outlined his determination. “He’s got the mindset of a fighter. You don’t wait to stay ready,” said Baines III.
Baines hopes to someday play ball in France or Dubai and says so with the curiosity of someone eager to see a new part of the world and continue to leave a mark. “I want my life to be hope for someone with a dream and a vision to go for it with everything inside of you.”