The UNCG Men’s Basketball team will play for the regular season Southern Conference Championship on Monday night, marking the end of what’s been a record-breaking season for the Spartans.
The team is currently ranked third in the Southern Conference, the blue and gold are riding a six game winning streak, and have notched thirteen SoCon wins this season, which is the most conference wins in school history. The Spartans’ 22 wins this season are also just one shy of the most total wins in school history.
Senior guard Diante Baldwin says this remarkable improvement from last year’s 15 win season was anticipated:
“It started towards the end of last year,” he said. “We’ve been going hard every day, and as a team we’ve been playing better together, playing harder, and competing in practice better. It’s kind of like we built the culture, so we knew it was going to be a big year.”
Despite the team’s success this season, the Spartans still haven’t become complacent.
“We still feel like we’re overlooked,” Baldwin said, “We always go into [the game] with an underdog mindset, just to show the SoCon that we deserve some respect.”
Along with the team as a whole performing better than last year, Baldwin has put together another terrific individual season, averaging 13.1 points and 4.0 assists per game for the Spartans. He also recently became the first player in school history to reach 1000 points, 400 rebounds, and 400 assists for his career.
Baldwin’s shooting percentages in particular have seen significant improvements; his free throw percentage has soared from 66 percent last year up to 76 percent this season, while his 3 point percentage has jumped from 31 percent up to 39 percent.
“I just worked every day in the summer,” Baldwin said of his improvement, “I was working on shooting and concentrating on the free throw line. Coach Wes and I set out some goals during the summer, and I just kept going on my plan.”
Diante has played under coach Wes Miller for all four years at UNCG, and the two have a “very strong relationship”. This relationship, Baldwin says, has helped him to perform at his best when he’s out on the floor:
“He tells me that he trusts me and that it’s my team,” Baldwin said. “Him putting trust in me gives me the confidence to be the coach on the floor.”
In his role as the “coach on the floor”, Baldwin has taken on a huge leadership position for his team. In addition to his on-the-court work during the summer, Diante said that he read a few books on leadership in preparation for this season. Leading a team that he describes as “defensive-minded” in steals per game (1.7) has certainly been one way he’s proven to be more than capable of handling the reins.
“If I’m saying we have to pick it up on defense, then [my teammates] look at me like ‘OK he’s doing it, so we all have to do it’, because I’m the leader,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin also owns the distinction of being a Greensboro native. He grew up in the city, and prides himself on being able to represent his hometown when he puts on the blue and gold uniform each game.
“It’s been fun because my parents and my family get to come and see me play,” Baldwin said of the experience of playing for his hometown. “The people who supported me before can still support me.”
Monday will be Diante Baldwin’s last home game at UNCG. He said the feeling of playing in front of the Spartan fans one final time is going to be “unexplainable”:
“There’s going to be a lot of emotion in that game, and the fact that we might be battling for the conference championship takes it to another level,” he said. “We’re just going to have to go out there and leave it all out on the floor.”
While Baldwin has been successful in making his mark at UNCG, he wants to be remembered for being “hardworking”, and for being someone who “always gave it his best, never settled for anything else, and changed the way the program was working.”
A win on Monday night would without a doubt help to prove his case.