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Troy Baxter Jr. had to learn to fall in love with the grind

Troy Baxter Jr. had to learn to fall in love with the grind

You may know Morgan State forward Troy Baxter Jr. from his highlight reel. Whether it’s via a posterization or a between-the-legs slam with the world watching, he captivates your imagination with his explosiveness and ability to soar through the air.

This leaping, two-handed baseline putback at the inaugural Tampa Bay Pro Combine this past June was just a small taste.

But even with that spectacular athleticism, Baxter is adamant that his game extends beyond his physical abilities.

“I'm more than just a dunker. Ever since high school, I've been labeled as a dunker just with potential. I just wanted to clear the air with that,” Baxter told BasketballNews.com at the TBPC. “I can do a lot of everything. I just need to tidy up a little bit of things -- ball-handling, stuff like that."

At the event, Baxter earned a spot on the TBPC All-Tournament team, averaging 17.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and a steal per game on 52.8% from the field in scrimmage play. Despite some difficulty shooting from deep, he went 22-for-31 on two-point field goals.

“It's been a lot of people that actually have never seen me in person -- just a few viral videos here and there,” Baxter said of shining in front of professional executives and scouts.

After the Combine, Baxter worked out for the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.

Baxter is coming off a stellar stint at Morgan State, which earned him All-MEAC First Team and MEAC All-Defensive Team honors. He scored 15.5 points, grabbed 4.4 rebounds and blocked 1.6 shots per night. In addition, he drilled a career-high 35% of his threes.

“I just wanted to showcase that I could constantly shoot the three and defend on the perimeter,” Baxter said. “That's really the main focus, just to show that I could consistently knock down the three, because the game nowadays is pretty much small ball, so you've gotta be able to shoot the three in the NBA. Even if you're athletic, you still have to at least put the ball in the hoop.” 

Before his two-year stay with the Bears, Baxter spent time at Florida Gulf Coast University and, initially out of high school, at UNLV. Three different schools over a five-year period of time changes a man, and Baxter, now 25 years old with a 1-year old daughter, has a new perspective on this journey.

“Years ago, I was always trying to chase the money and not just get better every other day,” Baxter said. “So that was my main thing, I just had to fall in love with the process, with the grind; the money will come, just don't think about it, 'cause if you just love doing what you do, it's gonna come. And you're not even gonna see it [coming].

“It was a culture shock [to transfer twice]. Every step. I started off at UNLV, private planes, stuff like that. Just living the high-major life. And then going from that to a mid-major -- pretty prestigious school, Dunk City, they had their little run in the NCAA Tournament -- but it was just on a smaller scale. And when I left there and actually went to Morgan State, it just made me appreciate all of that stuff. When I was younger, I didn't appreciate that. I just figured that, 'Oh I'll be here for four years.' It just made me appreciate the things while you have it at the time.”

As far as players he studies the closest, Khris Middleton, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant come to mind. That should come as no surprise, as Baxter utilizes a one-legged fadeaway as his go-to move in the mid-range.

“A lot of guys, a lot of vets, they pretty much told me that my game is NBA-ready,” Baxter said. “I'm really just a stretch 4, can play the 3 and that's really today's game. Super athletic, can guard multiple positions. My game pretty much fits today's league.”

Baxter is extremely driven and will continue to grind away until he finds an opportunity.

And as for Thursday night’s NBA Draft, Baxter has his own elevator pitch for front offices.

“I'm just a hard-working guy,” Baxter said. “I'm a good teammate, good person. A good person to be in the locker room [with]. Whatever the coach needs me to do, I'm gonna do it to the best of my abilities. And when it's my time to step up, I'll be ready."

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