Hayden Baughman UWEC

UW-Eau Claire basketball player Hayden Baughman dunks during warmups for the team’s intersquad scrimmage on Oct. 29 at Zorn Arena.

It was a typical summer day, but something was stewing in Hayden Baughman’s mind.

The days left until fall were dwindling, and it had him thinking.

“I was thinking, ‘Man, I’ve got to go back to school in a month.’ And I thought about going back to Concordia-St. Paul, and I just didn’t feel right,” he said. “I didn’t feel at home.”

So Baughman did something about it. The 6-foot-5 basketball player put himself exactly where he wanted to be.

Home.

Baughman, a star on the Chippewa Falls McDonell boys basketball teams that went to state three times in his prep career, transferred to UW-Eau Claire from Concordia-St. Paul this school year. Once a Division II basketball player, he’s now suiting up for the hometown Blugolds.

Being closer to home was a factor. So was his education. Concordia-St. Paul doesn’t offer a major in information systems, something Baughman is highly motivated to pursue.

And on the basketball court, the Blugolds are getting a dynamic scorer who can beat defenders in multiple ways. Baughman averaged 7.2 points per game as a freshman at the DII level last season.

“I think he just brings (us) a guy that can really stretch the floor and can really knock down 3-point shots,” Blugolds coach Matt Siverling said. “I’m really happy to have him here, and having a local young man that a lot of people recognize will be great for the program.”

Baughman attempted the second-most 3-pointers for Concordia-St. Paul last season, with standout results. He was a 46% shooter from 3-point range for the Golden Bears. He was also a capable slasher in high school, able to get past defenders off the dribble.

“Last season was definitely a year of learning,” Baughman said. “Once you get to college, it’s about adjusting to the speed of the game, making quick decisions on the fly. That’s really what I had to get used to, but I think I’ve definitely grown as a basketball player.”

Points were a bit harder to score at the college level than they were in high school, when Baughman was a two-time all-state selection for the Macks and averaged 21.3 points as a senior. But he still finished fifth on the team in scoring for Concordia-St. Paul, starting just under half of the Golden Bears’ games.

Defense was one of the weak spots in his game, something he — and the entire Eau Claire squad — is honing in on.

“My biggest weakness is probably defense, and that’s where I struggled with making decisions and getting to the right spot,” Baughman said. “I think after a year of college basketball though, I’ve gotten a lot better than I was coming out of high school.”

And now he’s tasked with learning a new system for his new team. The Blugolds employ a lot of motion offense, something Baughman’s not entirely used to.

“Obviously when you change systems, you go from one system in high school to now a completely different system in college for one year and then you’ve got to almost change completely again the next year,” Siverling said. “So he’s continuing to work on understanding what we want him to do.”

His Blugolds teammates have helped make the transition easier. Baughman steps into a team that went 14-12 last year and finished fifth in the WIAC.

“The guys are great. They’ve really taken me in and been really good to me,” Baughman said. “I think we have some great bonds on this team, some great friendships. And I think we’ve got a talented group of guys.”

And on the topic of friendships, Baughman will get to reunite with some faces from his high school days now that he plays in the WIAC. Former McDonell teammate Alex Ohde plays at UW-River Falls, and former McDonell head coach Archie Sherbinow is now an assistant at UW-Stout.

“I can’t wait to see those guys,” Baughman said. “I keep in contact with them, and it’ll be fun to see them throughout the course of the season.”

The Blugolds will need to be tough to compete in the always-challenging WIAC. Eau Claire has two of its top three scorers back in Cole Rabedeaux (16 ppg, 4.7 rebounds per game) and Spencer Page (8.7 ppg), but will need to replace now-graduated senior leader Ben Widdes.

The Blugolds will need to replace three starters overall. Page was a contributor off the bench last winter, but could step into a larger role this year. Cam Kuepers (6.7 ppg) is also back with starting experience.

Eau Claire kicks off the season with a game at St. Scholastica on Friday night. The Blugolds’ home opener is set for Nov. 14 against Aurora.