It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one Jabari Walker wanted to make certain he enjoyed off the floor while still putting down all his chips on the floor.
It was during one of those quieter moments just before the start of the USA Basketball U19 World Cup team tryout camp last summer when Walker was approached by a fellow camp invitee whose face Walker couldn’t immediately place.
He introduced himself as Patrick Baldwin Jr., one of the top five recruits in the 2021 freshman class. And he said he had been checking out Walker’s freshman year highlights at Colorado.
Walker didn’t make the final cut for the national team. Baldwin did, helping the US win gold at the 2021 U19 World Cup. But if Walker felt snubbed from that opportunity, it hasn’t diminished his respect for Baldwin.
“He’s a great guy,” Walker said. “I obviously knew about him from just watching film and seeing (highlights) posted everywhere, really. When I got there, he came up to me and he said, ‘I’ve been watching your film.’ I wasn’t one of the main guys, one of the top name guys, there, so it just shows he dives deep into players. He was a really cool, laid back person. He’s a guy you can talk to, and a guy who’s going to be a great pro.”
It isn’t often a player of Baldwin’s caliber choose a program like Milwaukee over suitors like Duke. However, Baldwin’s desire to play for his father, fifth-year Milwaukee coach Patrick Baldwin Sr., has led to a welcome opportunity for Buffaloes fans on Friday night, as CU takes on a player projected to be a one-and-done lottery pick in the 2022 NBA draft.
It has been a somewhat uneven start to what is expected to be the younger Baldwin’s lone collegiate season due mostly to a recent injury that kept him sidelined for three games. Baldwin also missed most of his senior year of high school due to an ankle injury.
When in the lineup, however, Baldwin has shown why more than 30 NBA scouts have requested credentials for Friday’s game. In his return to the rotation in a win Saturday against Robert Morris, Baldwin tied a school record by going 6-for-6 on 3-pointers. He finished 9-for-14 overall with a crowded stat line of 26 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
Baldwin’s shooting ability and 6-foot-9 frame presents a matchup problem for a CU defense that has been hit hard by opposing backcourt shooters in each of the past five games. The most recent was a 23-point showing with five 3-pointers from Eastern Washington’s Steele Venters, who nearly shot the Eagles into what almost was a stunning comeback victory at the Events Center on Wednesday.
Despite the near-miss, CU’s defense put together its best effort since the pre-Thanksgiving Paradise Jam. Now the Buffs need to shoot their way out of a long-range shooting slump while addressing a recent knack for committing turnovers in bunches.
“We also know how much better we need to get offensively,” Boyle said. “We’ve got to cut harder. We’ve got to screen better. We’ve got to have better recognition. We have to have better spacing. There’s a multitude of things offensively we have to get better at.”
Milwaukee Panthers at CU Buffs men’s basketball
TIPOFF: Friday, 7:30 p.m., CU Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Milwaukee 2-6; Colorado 7-3.
COACHES: Milwaukee — Patrick Baldwin Sr., 5th season (49-76 at Milwaukee and overall); Colorado—Tad Boyle, 12th season (240-146, 296-212 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Milwaukee — G Patrick Baldwin Jr., Fr., 17.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, .400 3-point percentage; G DeAndre Gholston, Jr., 16.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg; G Donovan Newby, Fr., 10.4 ppg, 2.8 apg, .436 3-point percentage. Colorado — F Jabari Walker, So., 14.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 12.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg; G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 11.7 ppg, 2.8 apg.
NOTES: Milwaukee is coming off a win against Robert Morris that snapped a six-game losing streak. The Panthers’ previous win was in the season opener at North Dakota. That six-game losing streak including a 36-point loss at Florida (currently ranked 20th)…CU has played Milwaukee/Wisconsin-Milwaukee four times previously, winning all four matchups. Most recently, the Buffs defeated the Panthers 93-87 at home on Dec. 8, 2001…Despite solid 3-point totals from Baldwin and Newby, Milwaukee is shooting just .329 overall from 3-point range. The Panthers boast one of the top defensive field goal percentage marks (.340) in the Horizon League…With final exams on deck next week, CU will not play again until a Dec. 18 home date against Cal Bakersfield…The Pac-12 changed the tentative tipoff time for CU’s home game against Oregon State on Feb. 5 to 4 p.m. It will air on FS1.