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Pat Baldwin Jr. will be a blast but let’s keep expectations realistic

The top-five recruit and the Panthers may take the Horizon by storm. It also may be unfair to expect that.

NCAA Basketball: Wis.-Milwaukee at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Baldwin Jr. choosing to play for his father at Milwaukee, and spurning Duke in the process, is a tremendous story. It may well be the mid-major story of an offseason chock full of moving pieces and rearranged narratives.

It’s also a story that figures to keep on giving.

How ESPN’s No. 4 recruit fares in the Horizon League, and what that means for his father’s long-term prospects at Milwaukee, brings a different layer to the 2021-22 season. It won’t be the first time we’ve seen an elite freshman prospect plopped into a mid-major league, but by no means has it been a common occurrence. Most recently, Charles Bassey — ESPN’s 19th prospect in the Class of 2018 — dominated as expected as a freshman at Western Kentucky, averaging a double double and and grabbing the CUSA Defensive Player of the Year award.

We hoped we’d see the scenario play out just last year with Makur Maker — ESPN’s 16th prospect — with Howard. But an injury limited the highly-regarded forward to just two games, and the Bison eventually cancelled their season in February after a lengthy COVID shutdown, wiping out any chance of Maker returning.

Baldwin Jr. now become the latest to step into that pot of intrigue.

He also steps into an equally fascinating recent lineage of otherwise high major recruits playing for their fathers at mid-major schools. It’s a formula that’s produced big success, but not always right off the bat.

The clearest comparison is Ray McCallum Jr., who himself played for his dad Ray McCallum at Detroit from 2010-13. To be sure, McCallum Jr. was not the exactly same caliber recruit as Baldwin Jr., but was still a McDonald’s All-American and ESPN’s 17th-best prospect in the Class of 2010 with offers from Arizona, Florida and UCLA. As would be expected, McCallum was no slouch as a freshman (13.5 PPG, 4.9 APG), but also didn’t blow the doors off the Horizon. He finished third in assists per game, competing in a league that also had future pros in Norris Cole and Shelvin Mack at his position.

Agua Caliente Clippers v Greensboro Swarm
Ray McCallum Jr. starred for his father at Detroit before a pro career.
Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

The Titans did use McCallum Jr. as a launching pad to big success, but it took some time. They were solid his freshman season (17-16, 10-8), and then made the NCAA Tournament the following year as the three seed in the Horizon League Tournament. They’d follow it up with an NIT appearance and second place league finish in 2012-13, a year in which McCallum won Horizon POY before becoming a second round NBA draft pick.

In the end, it was an objectively good three-year run, which is the same way another father-son pairing turned out just a few years later.

R.J. Hunter did not have near the prep fanfare as Baldwin Jr. or McCallum Jr., but he did sign with his father Ron at Georgia State despite offers from Iowa, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. He slid into the CAA with a bang in 2012-13, averaging 17.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, though — like with McCallum Jr. — it led to modest overall success (15-16, 10-8).

The Panthers would move to the Sun Belt the next year, and Hampton would win the next two Sun Belt POY awards as the program won back-to-back regular season titles and made the NCAA Tournament in 2015. Like with McCallum Jr. and Detroit, things revved up — in this case, considerably — after year one.

Potential Baldwin Jr. comparables

Player Team Year Class PPG Team Record
Player Team Year Class PPG Team Record
Ray McCallum Jr. Detroit 2010-11 FR 13.5 17-16, 10-8
R.J. Hunter Georgia State 2012-13 FR 17 15-16, 10-8
Charles Bassey Western Kentucky 2018-19 FR 14.6 20-14, 11-7
Makur Maker Howard 2020-21 FR 11.5 1-4, 0-0
This table may mean nothing.

Baldwin Jr., who many believe has lottery pick written all over him, may well help Milwaukee reach that type of success right away. For his part, he’s got recruiting pedigree, size and versatility that none of the players mentioned in this piece quite had. The Panthers, however, don’t return much production outside of points machine DeAndre Gholston (16.8 PPG) and, as of now, are hoping to unlock more from UTEP transfer guard Jordan Lathon.

Baldwin Jr. will almost certainly be the Horizon preseason POY, but it may be unfair to not keep expectations somewhat in check. Neither McCallum, Bassey nor Hampton led their respective leagues in scoring their freshman seasons, and none played on teams that made the NCAA Tournament. Those comparisons may be worth the words on this page as it relates to Baldwin Jr. (see, “nothing”), but they are all we’ve got in recent memory.

In any case, that Baldwin Jr. joins that rare list, and will try to lead the Panthers to new heights, is a treat for college basketball fans.