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Patrick Baldwin Jr. built for NBA bounce-back

Patrick Baldwin Jr. at UW-Milwaukee
Patrick Baldwin Jr. will likely hear his name called during the 2022 NBA Draft. (Credit: Dave Kallmann / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Editor’s note: The Golden State Warriors selected F Patrick Baldwin Jr. with the No. 28 pick in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft on June 23.

MILWAUKEE (BVM) – Patrick Baldwin Jr. entered his freshman season with many wondering what to expect from a likely “one-and-done” collegiate career after the five-star forward passed on joining one of college basketball’s blue-blood programs to stay local. Behind a season that encountered ebbs and flows, the former top recruit is hoping he can remind those around the league that his skillset hasn’t wavered.

Baldwin, the No. 8 player in the Class of 2021, arrived on campus with hopes of getting back on the floor after missing the majority of his high school senior year. After hearing from almost all of the top college basketball programs in the nation, he decided to stay home, opting to play for his father, who was the head coach at UW-Milwaukee. With the chance to experience something many have not, Baldwin jumped at the idea.

“That meant the world to me that he would want to play for me,” Pat Baldwin Sr. said. “That was all I cared about and just what he thought about me, not only as his dad, but taking that relationship even farther as being his coach. It’s just a testament to him and what he believes in and what he cares about.”

Patrick Baldwin Panthers
Milwaukee’s Patrick Baldwin Jr. (23) runs off the court during a game against the Florida Gators, at Exactech Arena in Gainesville Nov. 18, 2021. The Gators won 81-45 over the Panthers. (Credit: Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun / USA TODAY NETWORK)

The opportunity to join his dad was a lifelong goal for Baldwin Jr. who had grown up in the game, as his father climbed through the coaching ranks at a handful of collegiate programs around the Midwest. Following Northwestern’s first NCAA tournament appearance in 2017, the then-Wildcats assistant would become a hot candidate around college coaching jobs. The coaching cycle would lead to an eventual move out of the Chicagoland area for the family when he was announced as the next UW-Milwaukee head coach. 

With the new coaching gig timing up with his son’s arrival at the high school level, the 6-foot-10 forward would become a winning lottery ticket for any school that was able to land the incoming freshman. With private and public schools hoping that the Baldwins would wind up in their district, Hamilton High School head coach Andy Cerroni recalls that his school was “fortunate” that the family took a liking to the Sussex area.

Not knowing Baldwin Jr. all too well at the time, it wouldn’t take long for Cerroni to see just the kind of player that was added to his program.

“When he came and started playing with our kids during the fall, you could see that the kid was special, from day one,” Cerroni said.

The Chargers star would end up making an impact right away, leading Hamilton to the state semifinals before an eventual loss to Oshkosh North, who was led by Tyrese Haliburton. His momentum would carry over into the high school offseason as Baldwin Jr. enjoyed success in the Nike EYBL circuit with Phenom University. As his name rose to the top of the recruiting boards, so would his confidence, as the rising star propelled his team to the sectional finals as a sophomore.

“Watching him play, sometimes I would sit back and look up towards to the sky and thank God that I had the opportunity to coach one of the best players that’s ever come through the state of Wisconsin,” Cerroni said.

With the goal of making it one game further in his junior year, Baldwin Jr. would dominate the area’s high school competition for a third consecutive season, helping his team to a 23-3 record and the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award. Unfortunately for him, the team’s section finals matchup would be the last of his playoff experiences with the cancellation of the tournament due to the pandemic, and the quick end to his senior season following an ankle injury which occured in game two of his final year.

“He had 38 points and 15 rebounds and five blocks against the eventual state champs,” Cerroni said of his performance before the season-ending injury. “That tells you the level of play he was at. I don’t think anyone in the conference or the state could have matched what he brought to the table.”

The ankle injury sustained against Menomonee Falls would leave Baldwin Jr. sidelined for the entirety of his senior campaign, leaving him to still decide his collegiate fate. With many speculating that he would land at Duke for Coach K’s final season, his choice of UW-Milwaukee would end up turning some heads. Baldwin Jr. would instantly become the highestranked recruit in the history of the Horizon League, prioritizing what the opportunity to join his dad would give him.

“That’s a bond that you cannot shake,” Baldwin Sr. said. “It obviously points to the fact that Patrick wanted to stay close to home despite all the opportunities he had at other places.”

With an expectation that Baldwin Jr. would find his groove early on in the mid-major conference, things would not end up unfolding that way throughout the 2021-22 season. The star freshman played in only 11 games after injuring his ankle, even struggling to find his usual shooting stroke in the return. Along with his own frustrations, the Panthers as a team wouldn’t be able to find their footing either, ending with a 10-22 record. The year would lead to UW-Milwaukee moving on from Baldwin Sr.

Patrick Baldwin Jr. Milwaukee
UW-Milwaukee Panthers guard Patrick Baldwin Jr. works against Eastern Kentucky Colonels guard Cooper Robb on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. (Credit: Dave Kallmann / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Even with the circumstances, the former Panthers coach looks at the bright side, as he enjoyed an opportunity that many fathers dream of.

“To be able to have Patrick with me and share that with our family was really special,” Baldwin Sr. said. “Forget about wins and losses, just to have him around and go through those things with him, ups-and-downs and encouraging him to continue to fight, and stay strong and tough this thing out with the injuries, this was as special of a year as I could even imagine. I wouldn’t trade a day I had with him this past year.”

With the up-and-down year, Baldwin Jr. is hoping to prove to NBA teams that he can return to his high school form. As one of the top players from a year ago, his father thinks the chip on his shoulder that he’s carried around will continue to be there. With a proven ability as a highlevel player, Baldwin Sr. thinks any team that chooses the incoming prospect will be getting one of the best players in the draft. 

“He’s been very good since he was very little but he’s always had a chip on his shoulder,” Baldwin Sr. said. “I think that’s not going to be any different going into the situation. He knows that he’s going to have a lot to learn and I think the other side of that too is, any team that drafts him, he’s only 19 years old right now. They are going to have a blank canvas to be able to develop him and get a kid that is very talented, very skilled, and at the end of the day, is a high character kid that will be a pro for a long time. The team that drafts him is going to be very fortunate to get him.”

Cerroni echoed many of the same sentiments, pointing to his success against recent NBA players throughout his high school career and his work on Team USA. His former high school coach knows he will continue to be a highlevel player on and off the court and admires just how hard he’s worked to get to the NBA.

“I always said he was mature beyond his years,” Cerroni said. “The way he saw the game, the way he prepared… you could just see he was brought up with it. He had a plan. He knew this was his ultimate goal to get to the NBA and be an impact player there and that’s kind of what he’s built himself for. 

“He’s sacrificed a lot to get to where he’s at right now. Some people might say he missed a lot in his high school days but to be great, sometimes you have to make some sacrifices. For him on Friday nights, he would rather be in the gym… he knew what he wanted.”

Throughout the draft process, Baldwin Sr. sees his responsibility not as his son’s coach, but as his father. With him being around the game “since birth”, Baldwin Jr. knows the commitment that it takes at the next level. That’s why his father has made sure to explain that draft day isn’t the end goal, it’s just the beginning. 

“I think everybody dreams and thinks of that, but the one thing in my lessons to him is to not think about draft day,” Baldwin Sr. said when asked about Thursday night. “Think about the day that you are in. The work that you still have to put in to get to that point and so I’ve always told him to stay in that moment and when that day comes, it’ll really hit us. 

“If he’s fortunate enough to get selected, I don’t think he’ll have any idea the kind of emotion he’ll have and I don’t think we’ll even understand it until that day. At this point, I can’t fathom what it will feel like but I know it will be great to see his happiness and all the things he’s worked towards and worked for, come to fruition for him.”

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