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Ronnie Baker rolls back years for Essex Leopards
ESSEX Leopards veteran Ronnie Baker insists he can outplay opponents half his age this season after helping them to their first win of the season.
The 44-year-old played in the Big Cats’ 72-45 National Cup win over Barking Abbey at Southend's Garon Park on Sunday and came up against some players nearly 30 years his junior.
Baker, England’s most capped ever player with 156 international appearances, believes he’ll now be able to help Leopards build on the weekend’s success.
“This is just the start for us and I think we’re capable of winning all the trophies we’re playing for this season,” he said.
“I was actually thinking of retiring in the summer but (coach Robert) Youngblood said he wanted me to come in, and when I saw the squad he was putting together I just couldn’t say no.
“Once you decide to stop playing then that’s it forever, but I can still play.
“I still enjoy it and I still feel as though I can contribute, so I’m happy to be here and I’m looking forward to the year ahead. I obviously have to make sure I stay in shape and when you get to my age it’s important to make sure you look after yourself properly and eat the right kinds of foods.
“But I still enjoy the challenge of being up against the younger players on the court and it would nice to win a few more trophies with Leopards before I do stop playing.”
Baker played three seasons with the original Leopards in the mid-1990s, winning the BBL title and the National Cup in the 1996/97 season.
He played for seven other BBL clubs before returning to the new-look Leopards in January 2009 as player-assistant coach, and remained with them until the summer of 2010. He also had a short spell playing for the Essex Pirates, also in Southend, in 2011.
But he was unable to stop Leopards suffering an 82-68 defeat to Manchester Magic in the National Trophy at the Brentwood Centre on Saturday night.
Kris Clark top scored for the Big Cats with 20 points while Carl Josey added 16 and Samuel Iwubre 12.
But Leopards had no such problems against Barking Abbey with Howard Crawford leading the way with 22 points.
Josey was again the second highest scorer with nine, while former Leopard and ex- FitzWimarc School pupil Joe Lockwood led Barking Abbey with 10 points.