MERRILLVILLE | When Toi Baylor talks about the rigors of extending a student-athlete's education, those listening can also get an education.
Baylor has helped a multitude of local and semi-local basketball players attain scholarships.
"People ask me why I put so many players into junior colleges," Baylor said. "But for many, that's the only place they can go if their grades and ACT scores don't measure up to Division I standards. That's why some transfer to prep school to get their grades and scores up.
"It's not always because they don't like their coach."
Still, a fair percentage of players who played for or were assisted by the Gary native's Baylor Youth Foundation managed to get prominent D-1 school's to open their doors. That list includes West Side senior Dejah Joshua, who will continue her career at Houston.
"A lot of it's knowing the right people ... knowing the right connections," Baylor said. "And I have a lot of connections."
Even players not directly involved with the BYF have "connected" with schools by way of the college exposure showcases Baylor has hosted around the region.
"If you don't attend any showcases during the offseason, you're likely not going to get any offers," Baylor said. "Unless you're already a blue chipper, coaches are not going to come up here to watch your high school games. Yeah, if your team goes deep into the state tournament, then they may notice you."
One of the reasons Baylor started her non-profit organization was to give local youth teams and players means to travel across country to exposure tournaments attended by coaches.
"Now with our own tournaments, coaches come here," Baylor said.
Baylor's showcases have attracted the likes of Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Tom Crean (Indiana), Matt Painter (Purdue), John Beilein (Michigan), Thad Matta (Ohio State), Bruce Weber (Kansas State) and numerous other college basketball dignitaries.
Baylor, who played basketball for West Side and is a former physical education and special education teacher, started what would become BYF in 1998 with a Gary-based travel basketball team of 15 boys and five girls.
"The girls were statisticians, tutors and equipment managers," Baylor said.
The program became non-profit in 2001 and expanded to eight teams in 2005 before adding a girls program in 2008. Every player who has gone through the BYF, which also mentors and tutors its athletes, has graduated from high school.
"And just about every one of those went on to play somewhere in college," she said. "That's what we're about ... getting an education through sports."
Baylor's foundation was featured on ABC's "Secret Millionaire" last year. Though some reality shows doctor scenes for dramatic effect, when Baylor found out her BYF was going to receive a $50,000 donation from the show, her ebullient and tearful reaction was not scripted.
"We had no idea," she said. "We were told by (ABC) that they were doing a documentary on non-profit organizations and how well they were doing during tough economic times.
"It was a total shock, and (the $50,000 donation) really helped us keep operating."
Baylor is still on TV, or rather on Baylor TV, which can be accessed on her website www.baylorbasketball.org. It features action from various BYF-hosted showcases, and interviews with coaches and players who attended and participated in the events.
"Now I'm new to this journalism stuff, so don't make fun of my interviewing skills," she said before clicking on her one-on-one talk with Whitney Young senior Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1-ranked player in the nation.