Cathy Liang | Daily TrojanUSC’s all-time career saves leader, five-time MPSF Player of the Week winner and 2016 summer Olympian: Those are just some of the many titles held by McQuin Baron, the men’s water polo team’s senior goaltender. Yet, despite all the accomplishments that he has achieved throughout his years in the pool, water polo wasn’t always what he wanted to do. In fact, it wasn’t even his favorite sport when he was younger.“My dad played basketball in college and my mom played soccer and tennis,” Baron said. “I was super into soccer and basketball just because that is what my parents had played.”While neither of his parents had played water polo, one of his older brothers played for the SoCal Water Polo club team near his hometown of North Tustin, Calif. It wasn’t until Baron went with his mom to pick his brother up from practice one day that someone got him into the pool. “When I was like 7 or 8 years old … our family friend was the head coach,” Baron said. “He kinda just tossed me in there with my brother. My brother was a goalie, so I was automatically the goalie. Honestly, ever since then, it just stuck.”From then on, Baron began playing water polo, yet continued to play soccer, basketball and baseball throughout middle school. It wasn’t until high school that he finally decided to focus on water polo.“I didn’t really want to play any other sport once I got there,” Baron said. “It was an addicting sport for me once I got to that level.”Anyone who has grown up in Southern California knows that Mater Dei High School is an athletics powerhouse. Baron even recalled at one point during his time there that the school took a whole week off because so many teams had won their championships, which earned a day off of school each. It was only natural that Baron chose Mater Dei, even though his brothers had played sports at its rival, Orange Lutheran High School.“I loved it,” Baron said. “We had a 111-game win streak throughout my career [and] I won three of four championships there.”Baron’s looks back on Mater Dei as a sort of mini-college. He felt it was the best transition into playing water polo for USC that he could have asked for with the positive experience that he had and the people he met throughout his time there. However, coming to USC still was a huge transition that created a lot of pressure to do well and a tough, competitive environment that was different from the one at his high school.“Goalie is a hard position,” Baron said. “If you win a game, it usually is on the guy who scored the most goals, but if you lose a game, it is usually on your goalie. So, losing a game and then being a 17-year-old goalie for such a high-profile team … it was a difficult transition especially coming from a senior in high school where you are the oldest at the level and you hit your prime and then are back at the bottom when you come to college.”From coming in as a freshman to playing in his final season this year, Baron feels he has grown. He especially feels that playing for one of his coaches at USC who he has had all four years, Marko Pintaric as well as the national team has helped mold him into the player he is today.Even with everything he has learned and how far he has come as a player, Baron is not satisfied just yet. Having never won a championship here at USC, he and the other seniors feel as if they have something left to finish before they can leave.“We don’t want to leave here without leaving our mark on this program and leaving some type of legacy,” Baron said. “Especially coming from a team that had won six straight titles coming into our freshman year.”With the end of the season rapidly approaching, Baron is focusing on his goal to leave behind yet another legacy with his teammates by winning the national championship. At 18-1 on the season so far, the Trojans are proving they are a strong force in the pool, but they are not going to let off the gas until that trophy is theirs. Baron also has another achievement on his radar. He is just 95 saves shy of the current holder of the MPSF all-time saves, Alex Malkis. By the end of this season, two more titles could be added to his already impressive list. But by then, Baron will have already turned his eyes toward the next thing on his to-do list — an Olympic gold medal.
by Jim LitkeIt’s time to bury the term “student-athlete.” It died at 11:42 p.m. Monday, just about the time the confetti falling from the roof of the Superdome landed on coach John Calipari’s hair and the players from Kentucky’s NBA development academy gathered at a far corner of the court to collect a trophy many of them will need a campus map just to find next year. The real joke is on college basketball, or at least the college part of it. The Kansas team the Wildcats beat handily 67-59 never had more than a puncher’s chance.“They did a great job,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said afterward. “They’re playing with pros. That didn’t hurt.”And not just any pros.Kentucky had the surefire No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA draft in freshman Anthony Davis, who was named the game’s most outstanding player after grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking six shots, and a top-three selection in another freshman, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Sophomore Terrence Jones is a likely mid-first-round pick and three more Wildcats—freshman Marquis Teague, sophomore Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, one of only two seniors—could be playing in the pros by the time the leaves hit the ground in Lexington next fall.Say this much for Calipari: He never hides his ambition. He doesn’t have to. What amounted to a graduation ceremony for his latest class of “one-and-dones” took place in full view of NCAA President Mark Emmert, whose seat at center court was one of the best in the house. Emmert, sadly, has seen it before and is just as powerless to stop it now as he was in 2005, when a new NBA collective bargaining agreement designed to stop kids from turning pro straight out of high school inadvertently made a mockery of the college game.In the last four years, Calipari-coached teams have appeared in two championship games, the first one at Memphis in 2008. Over that same span, he’s had nine NBA first-round selections, including two of the last four players to go at No. 1, and Davis will give him the trifecta. But he’s not just ruthless as a recruiter.The Wildcats were already up 18 with little more than three minutes left in the first half, but that wasn’t enough for Calipari. Noticing that Davis wasn’t in the game, he walked to the far end of the bench, where a trainer was trying to help the freshman put his contact lenses back in. Calipari began clapping his hands and yelling, “Let’s go! Let’s go!”Seconds later, dissatisfied with the pace of the repairs, he stormed back in their direction and screamed, “Are you (kidding) me?”—only he used language we can’t reprint here.After trailing 41-27 at halftime, Self was the last guy out of the Kansas locker room, still studying the stat sheet as he started down the hallway that led back to the court. A Jayhawk fan leaned over the railing for a high-five, and almost reflexively, Self extended his left hand with the sheet still in it. He might as well have left it with the fan, since he wasn’t going to find anything on it he didn’t already know.Davis was the principal reason the Jayhawks threw up desperate rainbow shots nearly every time they ventured into the lane, and that only got worse as time slipped away. That explains their 36 percent shooting for the game, but not the beating they absorbed on the other end.After shooting 7 for 8 in a semifinal drubbing of Louisville two days ago, Davis went 1 for 10 against Kansas, but that was hardly a reflection of his contributions to the Wildcats’ offense. He started his sophomore year of high school at 6-foot-2, then grew to 6-10 by the time he was a senior. Watching him glide up the court handling the basketball like a point guard threw the Jayhawks defense into panic mode more than once.“I think it’s a joke, simply because they have four players who can bring the ball up the court,” Kansas’ Elijah Johnson said. “To have someone who can get the rebound and put it on the floor and go, that puts you on your heels more. We haven’t seen that much this year.”Neither has anyone else.Larry Brown, who mentored both Self and Calipari when he was at Kansas and has plenty of experience on pro benches, said the other day he thinks this Kentucky team could beat almost half the teams in the NBA. That’s an exaggeration, but only slightly. Davis is reed-thin and couldn’t survive the pounding he’d take playing against men whose livelihood depends on not getting pushed around. Kidd-Gilchrist turned 18 just last September and he’s not ready to play against real pros, either.But none of that is going to stop both of them from dropping by the used-bookstore back on campus to hand over the ones they’ve been carrying around like props the last nine months, then booking an agent to get them a king’s ransom when some NBA team comes calling. Calipari may be sad to see them go, but he won’t waste much time, either, recruiting their replacements. It won’t be hard“I said this a couple years ago and everybody got crazy when we had five guys drafted in the first round. This is one of the biggest moments, if not the biggest, in Kentucky history,” Calipari said.“The reason was, I knew now that other kids would look and say, ‘You got to go there.’ What I’m hoping is there’s six first-rounders on this team. We were the first program to have five, let’s have six. That’s why I’ve got to go recruiting on Friday.”And just think, you don’t even need a college degree to do that kind of math.(Jim Litke is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com and follow him at Twitter.com/Jim Litke.) CHAMPIONS—Kentucky head coach John Calipari hugs forward Anthony Davis after the NCAA college basketball championship game April 2.