Patrick Baldwin Jr., the nation’s No. 3 basketball recruit in the junior class, faces a difficult decision — play for Coach K, his father or his beloved Northwestern?

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EVANSTON, Ill. — After playing all 44 minutes of a draining triple-overtime thriller, Patrick Baldwin Jr. had one thing left to do: bare his soul.

Baldwin had scored a game-high 25 points for Sussex (Wis.) Hamilton despite Evanston spotlighting him with its box-and-one defense. He made key shots, missed key shots, grabbed 17 rebounds, drew two offensive fouls for extending his left arm, blew a kiss after a pull-up jumper and surrendered the ball under his team’s basket in a devastating sequence.

And after all of those emotional swings at Welsh-Ryan Arena, his second home, Baldwin did something extraordinary.

He broke the quiet of a losing locker room by standing before his teammates and uttering: “This game meant the world to me, and I want to say thank you for the way you competed. I just want to say thank you.”

Forward Nolan Rieder, seated on a stool in the back, jumped in.

“Thank you,” he said. “There are a lot of other places you could be. But you chose us.”

Coach Andy Cerroni looked at Baldwin and said: “We love you, man. We love you more than anything.”

Baldwin wiped sweat from his eyes.

Or were those tears?


There’s much to know about Baldwin, starting with his extraordinary pedigree, skill set, maturity and background as a Northwestern ball boy.

Plus a little fib.

He is not 6-foot-9, as listed. He is taller.

After Baldwin led Hamilton to a 29-point victory at Nathan Hale on Feb. 4 in West Allis, Wis., he spoke of being 6-9 until his mother, Shawn, chimed in: “How tall are you really?”

Baldwin smiled. He got busted trying to pull a Kevin Garnett.

“I just like 6-9,” he said. “It sounds better.”

Said his father, Pat: “He’s actually 6-10. He just likes to be called 6-9. He thinks maybe they’ll put him at power forward or center.”

Pat and Shawn Baldwin met at Northwestern, where both excelled on the hardwood.

The Daily Northwestern dubbed Baldwin “Man of Steal” after he made nine swipes as a freshman in a November 1990 game against Oakland. The school’s season record of 90 steals and career mark of 272 also belong to Baldwin, who turned down home-state Kansas to attend Northwestern. He captained three of his four Wildcats teams, hit pull-up jumpers left- and right-handed and was named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year in 1994.

After the 6-1 Baldwin secured the clinching rebound in a 1993 win at Purdue that ended Northwestern’s 60-game Big Ten road losing streak, coach Bill Foster said: “He might have been up about 25 feet. That’s the highest I’ve ever seen him jump.”

Shawn Karey, as she was known then, was a 6-2 volleyball middle blocker from Lyons.

“Shawn has long arms and is extremely quick,” said her coach, Jerry Angle.

Once Shawn and Pat united, friends joked about their offspring’s potential.

As Pat put it: “Shawn’s brothers are pretty tall. Her grandfather was 6-5. In college, she thought I was scouting.”

They have three daughters and 17-year-old Patrick, the oldest.

And now he is the one being scouted.

He ranks as the nation’s No. 3 player in the junior class with a .9993 rating in the composite. His suitors include Kentucky, Kansas and, most notably, Duke, Northwestern and Milwaukee, where his father is head coach.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has told friends he views Baldwin as the “perfect recruit.”

High basketball IQ. Great family. Relentless worker. A skilled stretch-four likened to Klay Thompson.

Duke also is the perceived favorite for Max Christie, a 6-6 junior at Rolling Meadows who’s ranked 14th nationally in the composite. His mother, Katrina Hannaford Christie, played at Northwestern, surpassing 1,000 career points. Christie and Baldwin are tight.

Jalen Johnson, a senior at Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wis., and an AAU teammate of Baldwin’s, is Duke-bound.

“Overall I like Coach K and Coach (Jon) Scheyer,” Baldwin said, though he has yet to visit Duke for a game. “Jalen always has great things to say about the coaches.”

Pat Baldwin is in his third season at Milwaukee after lengthy stints as an assistant at Loyola (2004-11) and Northwestern (2013-17). Coincidence or not, the Wildcats are 34-55 since Baldwin left to rebuild the Panthers.

“His dad is a heck of a coach,” said Cerroni, the Hamilton coach, whose son played Division I basketball. “His dad got him to where he is right now. Who do you think works him out? They have a wonderful relationship.”

The Panthers are 7-7 in Horizon League play and 12-14 overall. Is there a scenario in which an athletic director of a high-major program would roll the dice with hopes of landing father and son?

That’s one intriguing possibility in Baldwin’s recruitment, which figures to culminate in the fall.

“Regardless of where he is — D-2, D-3 — no coach will ever back you like your father,” Patrick said. “That’s not a knock on any other coach. If I were to play for my father, that would mean the world to me and my family. Having him on the sideline, being able to talk to him during the game … that would be pretty cool.”

Before the season Baldwin altered his free-throw routine to include a spin. Just like his dad did.

“I was not aware,” Patrick said of the similarity. “I’m shooting 90%, up from 70% last year, so I’m going to stick with it.”

His dad hit 88%, good for fourth all-time at Northwestern.


Shawn Baldwin grew up in Chicago’s western suburbs thinking “college” and “Northwestern” were one and the same. So many of her family members graduated from there, it’s all she knew. She committed early enough that the West Coast volleyball powerhouses didn’t bother recruiting her.

Shawn and Pat chose Aug. 23, 1998 — a Sunday — for their wedding date.

Why? She wore No. 8, and Pat’s purple jersey had No. 23 for his favorite player, Michael Jordan. (Though Pat noted he could not afford his first pair of Jordans until he played professionally in Croatia.)

At their reception, the couple entered the room to the fight song “Go! U Northwestern.”

Shawn recalls bawling at Welsh-Ryan Arena twice: Before Pat’s senior day in 1994, when the Wildcats stunned Michigan’s “Fab Four” (minus Chris Webber) 97-93 in overtime to earn an NIT berth. And when Dererk Pardon hit the layup after a court-length pass from Nathan Taphorn to beat Michigan in 2017 for the program’s Richter Scale moment.

“It was an ugly cry; I could not control it,” Shawn said. “You would have thought I was devastated.”

Shawn assigned the ball boys that season, so you can guess who was under Northwestern’s basket. Pause the YouTube video at the 1:41 mark, and you can see a young man in a purple T-shirt, a head taller than whoever is in front of him. Pardon’s shot goes in, but the youngster is expressionless, a sphinx.

Non-emotional that night, Baldwin now makes it clear how much he loves Northwestern. The old Welsh-Ryan Arena, he said, “was my paradise.”

“Anytime you have that much love for a program, it will be at the top of your list because of the emotional impact,” he said. “It’s a familiar place, right there on the lake, right up my alley in terms of a college campus setting. Anytime you’ve been around a program that long, you grow attached to it and it’s kind of hard to break it.”

NU coach Chris Collins is so all-in on Baldwin, he separated from his team on the eve of the Wildcats’ Feb. 9 game at Rutgers. Collins and top assistant Brian James remained in Evanston for the Hamilton-Evanston game at Welsh-Ryan.

Asked if having Collins there meant a lot to him, Baldwin replied: “Definitely. Having the relationship with them and seeing how much they really care shows that they’re really committed to trying to bring me into this program and change it for the better.”

And NU fans couldn’t help but enjoy what sounded like a slip of the tongue from Baldwin: “I think that when I — if I — come in, I can really make an impact.”


In the locker room before the game against Evanston, Cerroni had a stern warning for his players.

“There’s a little history here between Patrick and this team,” he said. “I say this because it’s relevant. They feel like this young man let them down or whatever because he was going to Loyola (Academy) instead of Evanston. I’m telling you right now they are using that as motivation. He’s one of ours and we will protect him. You will not let them ‘punk’ him like I think they want to do. Have his back.”

Indeed, Baldwin was set to play at Loyola Academy before his father took the Milwaukee job and moved the family up I-94.

Shortly after tipoff, Pat Baldwin arrived and sat behind the Hamilton bench. He had zoomed up from Indianapolis, where his Panthers beat IUPUI in overtime.

“Did you put the Batmobile in action?” a friend asked.

Baldwin grinned and replied, “It was like when (Shawn) was pregnant.”

A week before the clash with Evanston, Patrick Baldwin broke a school record by scoring 41 points against Menomonee Falls. He did it with comical efficiency, hitting 15 of 20 from the field and 9 of 13 from 3-point range. He needed only two free throws. He also had seven rebounds and five assists with no turnovers.

But Evanston arrived with a 22-3 record and at least two Division I prospects. And as Cerroni pointed out, the Wildkits wanted to show up the guy who planned to play for their archrival.

Baldwin drew some oohs from the Welsh-Ryan crowd for his smooth behind-the-back dribbles to set up jumpers. After one make, he motioned to blow a kiss.

“I’m not usually one to be animated,” he said. “If you took that out of context, I apologize. No disrespect to anybody.”

One series, though, fed the critics who say Baldwin lacks a killer instinct and is not a freak athlete. He missed a shot in close, rebounded, missed another, rebounded and finally laid it in.

His father calls that “Moses Malone-ing it.”

Baldwin certainly looked like an elite recruit, but his stat line provided a mixed bag: He shot 10-for-21 (1-for-5 on 3s) with 17 rebounds, two assists, two steals and six turnovers.

Evanston took a two-point lead on free throws by Daeshawn Hemphill with 3.3 seconds left in triple overtime.

After a timeout, Hamilton aimed to find Baldwin on the play it calls “Home Run” — starting with a baseball pass beyond half-court. Two Evanston players bracketed Baldwin as if he were Travis Kelce near the goal line, but Baldwin sprinted past them. Forward Lucas Finnessy received the long pass and whipped it to Baldwin, but they could not connect cleanly. Baldwin did not get a shot off.

Final score: Evanston 70, Hamilton 68.

“It’s unfortunate that someone had to lose a game like this,” Cerroni told his players. “But God almighty, you were in a game like this! We have to learn from this. We have to get better from this.”

Baldwin was composed when he met with reporters, initially asking if he could return in a minute to get his hair right.

Clutching a cellphone with a cracked screen, he said: “In any close game you lose, there will be plays you want back, moments you replay in your mind that eat at you.”

But he was grateful for the experience, a return home in front of friends and family. Plus those teammates who poured every ounce into the game.

“The way they played and competed,” he said, “I’m so appreciative — win, lose or draw.”


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