Michael Baker has been named the new head boys basketball coach at Paterson Eastside, the school that was at the center of a recruiting violations and human trafficking scandal last winter.
Baker, 48, will be charged with cleaning up the historic program and getting it back on track following the scandal. His top assistant will be former Eastside star Tony Murphy Jr.
"It's my goal to rebuild a program the city of Paterson can be proud of," Baker said. "Through consistent hard work, my staff and I hope to repair the community's trust in our basketball program. We want our players and their parents to know we will do right by them. I know high school sports is important in Paterson. But before we get into X's and O's, we have to build character and teach our student athletes about winning the every day challeges of life. We want to get back to the principles this program was built on and that's winning the right way."
Baker, the son of the late former Eastside basketball coach Henry Baker Sr., coached at Bergen Tech from 2011-16, compiling a record of 17-101 and leading the team to the school's first state tournament appearance in 2014. His brother, Henry Baker Jr., is the cornerbacks coach on the Rutgers football team.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) suspended coach Juan Griles for two years and the Paterson School District also removed him from the position after an NJ Advance Media investigation revealed that six players were living in a two-bedroom apartment owned by Griles. All six listed Griles or assistant coach Al Maldonado as their legal guardian. The state association also banned the Eastside teams from the 2018 state tournament.
The school district, NJSIAA and Division of Child Protection and Permanency all conducted investigations.
Baker wants to change the culture at Eastside.
"The culture will be different," he said. "We want to build a culture that benefits the student-athlete beyond the walls of Eastside High School and beyond Paterson, N.J. For the student-athlete it will be about playing for something bigger than themselves....each other. A greater emphasis will be placed on development -- academic, character, athletic and skill development. Changing a culture is a process and it will take some time but everyone involved (Administration, players, families and staff) is committed to that process."
Several New Jersey high school coaches said the Baker hire was a good move.
"Michael did an outstanding job at rebuilding Bergen Tech," said former Paterson Kennedy head coach Jimmy Ring, now an assistant at Ramapo High School. "He is a tremendous motivator and excellent teacher of the game. He should do well in moving Eastside forward. His father was an all-time great coach and Michael will follow in his footsteps."
Added Passaic Tech coach Mike Boorman: "He did a very good job at Bergen Tech. His kids played hard, executed well and respected their opposition and the refs. In light of what happened I think he is the perfect guy for the Eastside job."
Meantime, Griles is appealing the suspension and declined comment to SNY.tv.
In the appeal, Griles' attorney, Alfred Maurice, said his client was the victim of "fake news."
"Coach Griles should not be the scapegoat for what appears to be a largely managerial misstep," wrote Maurice in a report obtained by NorthJersey.com. "It is submitted that the entire process was marred by a media frenzy and the creating of what is now called 'fake news.' The numerous articles and other media reports of the 'scandal' were misplaced and exaggerated to increase readership."
"While the media took its shots at the district, its coaches had to bear the brunt of wild accusations ranging from 'human trafficking' to improper housing of students, to recruiting violations," Maurice continued.
In an exclusive interview with SNY in February, Maldonado, 54, broke down in tears as he discussed the report.
"I was shocked," Maldonado said. "I know what Coach Griles is about, I know what I'm about. Without getting into too much detail, some of the allegations that I [saw] in that article stunned me. In my opinion, [there was] a little bit of sensationalism. But my initial reaction was shock." Asked if he was aware of the living conditions at Griles' condo, where three Nigerian and three Puerto Rican players reportedly lived and allegedly said they were not adequately fed, Maldonado said, "I have nothing to do with that."
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