(Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 08--BLOOMINGTON -- Encouragement from his high school basketball coach and a strenuous college accounting class has John Baines where he is today.
A member of Illinois Wesleyan's 1997 Division III national championship team, Baines returns to Shirk Center as a head coach for the first time Saturday, leading Elmhurst against his alma mater in a 7 p.m. College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin clash.
"It will settle in when I get down there, seeing a bunch of familiar faces," Baines said. "But it's really more about the kids and getting them prepared. We're trying to get ready for a ballgame."
Baines was the ultimate role player as a Titan. He didn't shoot much but could score on occasion and take a charge as a rugged defender.
A former Elmhurst assistant who spent the past three seasons as head coach at St. Francis, Baines has the Bluejays at 13-7 overall and 5-4 in the CCIW after a 6-19 record in 2012-13.
Baines credits former University High School coach Cal Hubbard with guiding him toward coaching.
"Nathan (Cal's son and another ex-Titan) and I were really good friends. I spent a lot of time at the Hubbards' house," said Baines. "I talked to Cal a lot. He really pushed me in that direction. He thought it would be a good progression for me."
If that wasn't enough to make Baines a coach, the accounting class at IWU sealed the deal.
"I realized I was too dumb to get a degree from Wesleyan as an accountant," Baines said with a chuckle. "I thought coaching might work."
Baines faces a difficult task on his former home floor. No. 5-ranked Wesleyan is 17-3 overall and 7-2 in the CCIW. The Titans handled Elmhurst, 104-73, on Jan. 4 in Elmhurst.
"Ron (Rose) has a really good team and they play so well there," said Baines. "I'm looking for us to compete and do better than the first time we played them. Then we'll see where the chips fall."
After Wheaton (8-2), Wesleyan and Carthage (7-3), Elmhurst is competing for the fourth and final spot in the CCIW Tournament with Augustana (5-5) and North Central (4-6).
"I'm happy we're in the race," Baines said. "Our goal was really to get to February with a chance and keep our guys playing hard, which they are."
The Titans are trying to keep pace with Wheaton in search of their second straight CCIW regular-season championship.
"Elmhurst is playing good basketball. They can score," Rose said. "They have a lot of play for. But at the same time, we do too."
It's a matchup of the CCIW's top two scoring teams. Wesleyan is averaging 83.3 points with Elmhurst at 76.2. The Titans are giving up 11 less, 66.7 to 77.7.
The Bluejays sport the league's No. 1 rebounder in 6-foot-5 senior Nick Sanford at 9.4 per outing. Sanford scores 13.6 points with 6-1 sophomore Kyle Wuest at 13.9, 6-2 sophomore Bryant Ackerman at 10.2 and 6-5 senior Taylor Baxter of Minonk at 9.4.
"Watching film, Wesleyan has improved. I think we've really improved," Baines said. "We've got some guys who have really raised their games. Sanford and Baxter are really playing well."
The Titans are 11-0 at home and led by 6-5 seniors Andrew Ziemnik (13.9 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Victor Davis (11.8, 6.6).
"It's going to be good game. They've played well in conference and had a couple big wins," said IWU sophomore guard Bryce Dolan. "We have to execute like we did the last time and pull out a tough win."
Wesleyan paces the CCIW in 3-point shooting at 42.2 percent and connected on 16 of 29 from long range at Elmhurst.
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