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Chad Baker-Mazara’s long road back to the NCAA Tournament
Feb 24, 2024; Athens, Georgia, USA; Auburn Tigers guard Chad Baker-Mazara (10) controls the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs at Stegeman Coliseum. (Credit: Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports)

Chad Baker-Mazara’s long road back to the NCAA Tournament

AUBURN, Ala. (BVM) – Auburn junior forward Chad Baker-Mazara is no stranger to adversity. After being dismissed from his former D-I program due to poor academic performance in 2022, Baker-Mazara has risen from castoff to JUCO star to D-I role player to high-major starter in just under two years and is on the precipice of returning to the NCAA Tournament. While he has faced difficulties in his basketball journey during his college career, Baker-Mazara’s life has given him the tools to find success even through the most trying of circumstances.

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Baker-Mazara’s athletics career was expected to take a different route. With his cousin Nomar Mazara rising through the ranks on the baseball diamond, eventually playing in MLB from 2016-22, Chad took a much different route.

“My family tried to make me play [baseball] but I didn’t enjoy it,” Chad admitted to “It got really boring to me. We need somebody in the family in the NBA.”

Instead, Chad put his focus on the basketball court, following in the footsteps of his father, Derrek, who was a basketball student-athlete at South Carolina State from 1984-85. Chad was so invested in his basketball dream that he even moved in with his grandfather, who lived in the United States, at 17. At Colonia High School in New Jersey, Chad had to overcome culture shock, a language barrier and more just to be successful in his sport.

“Now I’ve been speaking English for so long I’m a little more fluent but sometimes people will say something and I have no clue; you’ll see me sitting there so confused like, what in the world?” Chad told

While his play was enough to garner some attention from colleges, Chad decided it wasn’t quite what he was looking for. Instead of jumping to the collegiate ranks, Chad reclassified and took a postgraduate year at SPIRE Academy in Ohio. There he helped SPIRE to a 23-4 record and a No. 8 national ranking, earning himself a D-I opportunity at Duquesne.

Chad made an immediate impact for the Dukes, averaging 9.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per game while being named a starter in 13 of the 15 games in which he appeared. 

Chad Baker-Mazara Duquesne Dukes basketball NCAA Tournament
Mar 4, 2021; Richmond, Virginia, USA; Duquesne Dukes forward Chad Baker (44) shoots the ball as Richmond Spiders forward Tyler Burton (3) defends in the second half in the second round of the 2021 Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament at Stuart C. Siegel Center. (Credit: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Despite the success, Chad ultimately decided to transfer out, joining the program at San Diego State.

His sophomore year with the Aztecs was his best yet. While his numbers dipped to 6.4 points and 2.0 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game, Chad earned the respect of Mountain West Coaches as he was selected as the conference’s sixth man of the year. He also made his NCAA Tournament debut with an impressive 17-point performance in 17 minutes against Creighton in the event’s opening round.

Chad Baker-Mazara San Diego State Aztecs basketball NCAA Tournament
Mar 17, 2022; Fort Worth, TX, USA; San Diego State Aztecs guard Chad Baker-Mazara (20) celebrates during the first half against the Creighton Bluejays in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Dickies Arena. (Credit: Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports)

However, the good times at SDSU would quickly come to an end. Chad was dismissed by the program that June and had the choice to lose a year of basketball or transfer to a JUCO and use his COVID year. So Chad toiled for a year at Northwest Florida State College, a top-ranked JUCO program, where he became a star, rising to All-Panhandle Conference first team and NJCAA Region 8 all-tournament team honors as well as being named the Region 8 Most Outstanding Player.

“Going from Division I to JUCO, it’s really hard,” Chad told Opelika-Auburn News. “And it’s just because you’re basically feeling like you’re on top of the world in a way. You have everything; a lot of privileges and stuff like that. But then going JUCO, you don’t have all that — the privileges Division I has. But at the end of the day, I’d never give up that (JUCO) route. Like, I’d go through that thing again 20 times if I had to.”

This performance earned Chad significant recruiting interest from the D-I level, including from SEC programs Kentucky and Texas A&M. However, Chad ultimately committed to the Tigers after impressing the coaching staff with his play on the court and his journey.

“In his sophomore year, San Diego State versus Creighton, he had like (15) in the first half against Creighton in an NCAA Tournament game,” Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl told the Montgomery Advertiser. “He’s got skills. He’s got feel. He’s got real ability. He’s won every place he’s been. He’s played for great coaches and even though he’s wound up leaving for a variety of reasons, all the coaches that we backtracked with had nothing but really good things to say about him.”

Chad Baker-Mazara Auburn Tigers basketball NCAA Tournament
Jan 9, 2024; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl talks with guard Chad Baker-Mazara (10) during the second half against the Texas A&M Aggies at Neville Arena. (Credit: John Reed/USA TODAY Sports)

It was a slow start for Chad during the early part of Auburn’s season. Over his first 26 games with the Tigers, Chad averaged 9.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 21 minutes. After earning his first start against Georgia on Feb. 24, Chad has started each of the last four games for Auburn and his stats have gone up as well as he has averaged 15.8 points and four rebounds in 28.3 minutes.

“Chad’s one of our best players,” Pearl told reporters Tuesday. “We had the luxury of bringing him off the bench to give us a spark. … We all know he’s got it. We all know he’s got great ability.”

With the SEC tournament just a week away and the NCAA Tournament a week after that, it appears that the Tigers are locked into the field and will have a chance to make some noise as a higherseeded team. Given his steady rise and experience both in college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, Chad can prove himself once again on the big stage. While he’s been through trials and tribulations, Chad has come through on the other side, much to the delight of Auburn basketball and its faithful.

Chad Baker-Mazara Auburn Tigers basketball NCAA Tournament
Feb 14, 2024; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Auburn Tigers forward Johni Broome (4), guard Denver Jones (12), guard Chaney Johnson (31) celebrate with guard Chad Baker-Mazara (10) after he made a three point shot to end the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Neville Arena. (Credit: John Reed/USA TODAY Sports)