From Donda Dove to ODU Monarch: Bryce Baker’s Court Career


Bryce Baker is #55 for the ODU Monarchs. He was #12 for the Donda Doves. (Credit to Kaito and Slam Online)

This article first appeared in the spring 2023 Mace & Crown magazine issue.


Monarchs might know Bryce Baker as the 6-foot-5, 190-pound freshman guard they’ve seen scoring in Chartway Arena. They also might know him as #12 from the 2021-2022 Donda Doves roster of Kanye West’s Donda Academy. 


Baker grew up in Mooresville, just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, which he described as “a growing town.” He conjured a relatively average childhood, saying, “I grew up with my mom, and she [worked] a lot. I went to school, played a lot of different sports, and hung out with friends.” He started playing basketball at the YMCA at a young age, but “never started taking it seriously until [he] got to high school.”


Baker began playing on the high school circuit at Davidson Day High School for the 2018-2019 season. Davidson Day, a private school in Davidson, North Carolina, has long had a strong athletic reputation and is no stranger to victory in basketball. In 2019, Baker and the Davidson Day Patriots won a state championship title. 


In his sophomore year, Phenom Hoop Report called Baker “the ultimate glue guy. Very much a winning player who makes winning plays on both ends. He’ll catch college coaches’ eyes immediately after they first see him.”


From there, Baker transferred to Combine Academy in Lincolntown, North Carolina, which describes itself as an “international boarding school” with “students and clients from 50+ countries and 50 states.” Playing for the aptly named Combine Goats, Baker won himself another state title in 2020. 


While enrolled in Combine, Baker played for Amateur Athletic Union’s Team Charlotte, which played on the 17U Under Armor Association (UAA) Circuit. He was the highest-ranked isolation defender in his league and was named the most efficient player on the Under Armor circuit.


Baker’s close friend and teammate at Combine, sophomore Robert Dillingham, was approached by Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, to begin the roster of Donda Academy’s new basketball team. About a month later, Donda’s administration reached out to offer Baker his own position. He recalled making the tough decision to leave, stating, “I was eighteen, moving across the country by myself. I knew it’d be hard being away from my mom, too. I’ve been close to her my whole life and we have a special relationship, but I felt it was the best thing for me.”


So, he moved west to Simi Valley, California to end his high school career with national coverage. After its initial roster announcement, the team went on to make national headlines for months with their Balenciaga-produced uniforms, Ye’s frequent appearances at away games, and the overall mystique surrounding the Academy. 


According to some reports, Donda Academy was officially announced as open during September of 2022, but according to The Season Ticket, the Doves’ first game was a year earlier, on Nov. 6, 2021. 


Donda Academy is a K-12 Christian private school, whose thesis statement is helping students “to be a reflection of God’s glory in the world.” The school was founded by Ye in memoriam of his late mother, Donda West, who was a Professor of English at Chicago State University. Its tuition is $15,000 per year, but scholarships are offered. Parents of Donda students have been encouraged to sign NDAs regarding the branches of teaching offered. 


Describing the average day at Donda, Baker said, “We’d really just get up, not too early, not too late. Then, we’d all go do our classwork for a few hours. Once everybody had gotten a certain amount of work done, then we’d have practice. After practice, we’d either lift weights or do some stretching and after all that, the rest of the day is yours. A lot of people just worked out more, some hung out with friends–really just normal high school stuff.” 


The private school is unaccredited, meaning that it does not have the power to issue its own diplomas or class credits, but Baker said that this is made up for with an online-learning partnership. He received his diploma just a few weeks after graduation. 


Towards the beginning of the season, Baker and his teammates resided mostly near Donda’s California campus in luxury apartments the players shared. However, as the season grew longer, they traveled for away games. The season lasted from Nov. 6, 2021, to Mar. 12, 2022, and ended with an 11-9 ratio for the Doves. 


In October of 2022, following a string of antisemitic remarks from Ye’s Twitter account, Donda Academy announced an indefinite closure, only to be reopened a few hours later. 


The fallout of Ye’s spiral left the Doves fractured from the inside. Robert Dillingham, the team’s only five-star recruit, transferred to play out his season for Overtime Elite, a pro-league for talented prospects. Players A.J. Johnson, Jacob Bannarbie, Javonte Taylor, and Chuck Bailey Jr. also transferred out to other basketball programs across the nation. 


Baker opted not to comment on the current state of Donda and the team. 


The Academy remains open and is currently accepting applications for the 2023-2024 school year at a new, undisclosed location somewhere north of Los Angeles. A basketball roster has yet to be announced for the year. 


Baker remains friends with many of his Donda teammates; he said, “We all close still. I still talk to all the people there–all the coaches, the academic advisors, all of them.”


He was offered a position as a Monarch defender just before the start of the season at Donda. He committed to ODU early to “have [his] senior year just to play.” Although he had received multiple other offers at that point, he’s since “forgot[ten] about them.” 


“I liked the [ODU] coaches a lot. I felt really comfortable and it wasn’t too far from my mom. I just liked the overall vibe when I visited campus.” 


Baker is currently a freshman in his second semester at ODU. Despite covering a bench position earlier into the season, he’s begun to play longer, accumulating a total of 188 minutes on the court since November. The season also showed that Baker is a force to be reckoned with, scoring a total of 45 points for ODU with a few more games left to increase that number. 


One of his “main goals right now” is to play for the NBA, and he’s planning on staying in college “for however long it has to take to make that happen.” The last draft pick from Old Dominion was in 2012 with Kent Bazemore, making a total of 10 Monarchs who’ve gone pro since 1983. 


Baker is a criminal justice major and hopes to pursue a career in a related field after his retirement from basketball. He plans to stay in the North Carolina area following graduation to be close to his mother. 


“I’m taking care of my mom and my people back home in North Carolina–and just playing basketball. I’m locked in right now.”