Baldwin Jr.'s path to pros: From 4 years old to first round


LAS VEGAS -- Patrick Baldwin Jr.'s favorite basketball memory doesn't come from his illustrious high school career. It isn't being named Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior. It isn't still being named a McDonald's All-American, even though he missed almost his entire senior season to an ankle injury. It isn't winning gold with Team USA at the 2021 FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Latvia. 

And it isn't even being taken by the Warriors with the No. 28 pick in last June's NBA draft. 

He always saw himself as a future NBA player, which brings us back to his favorite basketball memory. Or more so, his first one. 

"My first basketball memory, I think I was 4 years old," Baldwin said to NBC Sports Bay Area on the latest episode of Dubs Talk in an interview during the Las Vegas Summer League. "My dad was coaching at Loyola-Chicago at the time. There was this old gym that I think is knocked down now, but it was my first workout, I guess, with my father.

"I go to the gym, I'm doing ballhandling drills, I'm doing my shooting drills and then he has the VHS tape -- he's recording me. My first workout is probably my favorite basketball memory." 

Then and there, the groundwork was set for Baldwin's future. He couldn't get away from the game -- nor did he ever want to -- whether it was playing basketball, watching basketball or studying basketball. To his parents, the groundwork likely was laid down even before then. 

Baldwin's father, Patrick Baldwin Sr., played four seasons of basketball at Northwestern where he averaged 12.4 points per game and was a defensive standout. The elder Baldwin was named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 1994, and still is the school's all-time steals leader with 272. While at Northwestern, Baldwin met his future wife, Shawna, who played on the women's volleyball team. 

Following his four-year college career, Baldwin Sr. played professionally in Bosnia and Croatia before beginning his college coaching career as an assistant at Division-II Lincoln University for the 2001-02 season. He made the leap to Division-I starting in 2002 at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay as an assistant, months before the birth of Patrick Baldwin Jr. 

Gyms and arenas became a second home to the Warriors rookie from Day 1. He credits his father for his advanced Basketball IQ at only 19 years old, and for opening so many doors for him through the game. His first picture on Instagram is him meeting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 16 years old. His second is in honor of Gigi and Kobe Bryant, his idol as a kid, including high school highlights of him wearing No. 24 and pulling off Kobe's signature fadeaway jumper in his younger days. 

"Getting to shake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's hand is a special moment in anybody's life," Baldwin remembers. "I made sure to take that in and take what he said in." 

After years of grooming, Baldwin was seen as a can't-miss prospect right when he stepped foot onto the Hamilton High School campus in Sussex, Wisc.

As a freshman, he helped lead the school to its first crack at the state tournament since 1987, and then was named the No. 1 recruit in his class after a dominant summer on the Nike EYBL circuit. He was named First-Team All-State as a sophomore, before erupting for 24.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per game as a junior prior to his season being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, right as the playoffs were set to start up.

Father and son worked furiously with the world on hold to make his senior season an unforgettable one. In his first game, Baldwin was on track to do exactly that. He scored 43 points in a win, proving why he deserved to be seen as the best prospect in the country. The next game, everything changed. 

Not just for his senior season, but for years to come.

The high school star dislocated his left ankle, keeping him out for the rest of his senior season. Again, basketball was taken from him. Then, he shocked many with his college decision. 

The consensus was Baldwin Jr. always was going to join fellow top prospects Paolo Banchero and A.J. Griffin for coach Mike Krzyzewski's final season. But as his ankle rehab continued, whispers became louder that Baldwin Jr. could join his father at mid-major University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Baldwin Sr. was named as head coach for the first time just as young Patrick was set to start high school. 

Instead of playing under Coach K for his last hurrah, Baldwin texted his father at school that he was going to join him at Milwaukee, becoming the highest-ranked recruit ever to play in the Horizon League. On May 12, 2021, he made it official. Everybody envisioned the sweet-shooting forward crushing his college competition. But that wasn't the case. 

A combination of COVID, a leg injury and that same dislocated ankle held Baldwin to only 11 games played at Milwaukee. He put up 21 points and 11 rebounds in his college debut, and followed that up with 19 points and another 11 rebounds. But Baldwin never got a rhythm going, playing in only one of the Panthers' nine games in January. 

His final college game came on Feb. 9, scoring eight points in a 36-point loss to Northern Kentucky.

Those 11 games certainly didn't help his case. Baldwin averaged 12.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, shooting 34.4 percent from the field -- 41.8 percent on 2-pointers and 26.6 percent on 3-pointers. He was held to single digits five times. Once seen as a surefire future star, Baldwin's draft stock spiraled out of control. 

Going into the draft, Baldwin now wasn't even being selected in the first round of most mock drafts. If he didn't play a single college game, he likely would have been a lottery pick or as high as top 10. Just look at Shaedon Sharpe. The former five-star recruit signed with Kentucky but didn't play one game. The Portland Trail Blazers still selected him No. 7 overall. 

Between the past few years, Baldwin has learned more about himself than ever. From his fall from the top as a prospect to tumbling down the draft, Baldwin believes he has only become stronger. Now, he has a new skill. One that winners need in The Association. 

He can handle adversity. 

"I think I just handled adversity extremely well," Baldwin said. "You've seen a couple of guys that were in my position that maybe could have been in my position and could have gone down a deep, dark rabbit hole. But I think I had great people in my corner, great coaches to talk to -- my pops was the coach for me last year, so I had him in my corner all year.

"I think I've just done a great job of rebounding from that season."

Baldwin is the exact kind of prospect a team like the Warriors should take at the end of the first round. Many argued they should opt for an older player who was more likely to contribute right away. The truth is, it's going to be hard to crack Golden State's rotation no matter what. 

The Warriors' latest top pick has the natural talent of an NBA player. He has the size at over 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds. He has the basketball background, smarts and passion that teams crave. Long before the draft, his occupation was Hooper. 

Off the court, Baldwin enjoys biking and fiddling around with tech. Those two hobbies will come in handy for the Bay Area's newest resident. I also had to pry that answer out of him. He never wants to leave his favorite office. 

"Really, it's basketball," Baldwin said when asked what his favorite off-court hobby is. "It's been basketball. As long as I'm playing basketball, watching basketball, I'm happy. ... There's definitely a mixed bag of tricks of what I like to do, but if it's basketball and I'm watching film, that's where I'm at my happiest."

"Yeah, a coach's son," Baldwin said with a laugh, "for sure."

Regarding what he's looking forward to most in The Bay, he didn't hesitate. 

"The weather," he made clear. "It's the weather. I'm from Chicago and Milwaukee, where it gets cold in the winters. The sun only comes out about three months out of the year. When it's San Francisco and it's mid-60s or high 70s or it's great hoodie weather, it's a good deal." 

Maybe in an alternate world, Baldwin would have been picked at the top of the draft next to players like Banchero and Chet Holmgren -- two of the four who were ahead of him in ESPN's final high school rankings for the 2021 class -- or Jabari Smith Jr., who finished one place below Baldwin but was drafted 25 picks higher. 

Or maybe this is another best-case scenario for the Warriors and their top draft pick. That became the consensus on Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, Golden State's two first-rounders the year before, and that notion was sealed in approval after they contributed when it mattered most to be crowned champions as rookies. 

Two weeks after his first basketball workout at 4 years old, Baldwin remembers draining his first bucket in a game. The opposing team was called the Celtics.

Some players are made to be Warriors. He might be one of them.

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