Better, more mature Chris Baldwin commits to UMass



Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2016

According to his high school and AAU coaches, the Chris Baldwin that will be coming back to western Massachusetts next year is a much more mature and polished product than the one who left a year ago.

Improved maturity and a commitment to working hard helped turn the Springfield native into a highly sought-after Division I power forward. Baldwin, who played at Springfield’s Central High School before transferring to Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, committed to UMass on Tuesday.

His commitment continued a memorable recruiting week for UMass. Baldwin joins New Orleans natives Brison Gresham, a big man, and De’Jon Jarreau, a guard, who both committed Monday. Unique McLean, a wing, who is at the MacDuffie School in Granby, committed over the summer.

Baldwin chose UMass over Pittsburgh, Temple, West Virginia, Rhode Island and La Salle after a strong summer which created a spike in recruiting interest. ESPN ranks Baldwin as the No. 2 player in Massachusetts and the No. 30 power forward in the country. ESPN has Baldwin as a four-star recruit, while Rivals and 247Sports each have him as a three-star.

Baldwin said he didn’t like his reputation at Central and transferring to Notre Dame represented an opportunity to start fresh.

“A couple years ago, I was labeled as a lazy guy. I hated that. I told myself I need to be a guy that gives 110 (percent) every time I step out there,” Baldwin said. “It’s become a habit now.”

That the negative reputation was a valuable motivator.

“It opened my eyes,” he said. “I have an opportunity to do really well if I put everything into it.”

Notre Dame coach Ryan Hurd said the difference was immediate.

“We talked a lot about what his public perception was, what people think of him and what he had to do to either enhance that or change that,” Hurd said. “It struck a chord with him. It was something he wanted to focus on right away and he’s knocked it out of the park. It’s him and his family and the people that surround him. He has a sense of accountability in his life.”

Mass Rivals AAU coach Vin Pastore was proud of his evolution.

“Chris was always a good-hearted kid. All he really needed was some maturity. He made the decision that he was going to get this right. He’s been great over the past two years,” he said. “He’s been a very rewarding kid to coach for a multitude of reasons.”

Baldwin’s body has matured too. He’s athletic at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds. While many players with big-man bodies want to play on the perimeter, Baldwin is willing to play inside.

“When I started to fill out, my high school coach, Ryan Hurd, told me that rebounds are dollar signs in the NBA,” Baldwin said. “That’s what I make my living on. I pride myself on that.”

Hurd said his skills are becoming harder to find.

“He’s a physically imposing presence. He’s put a ton of work into his jump shot and that’s something that’s very consistent now. But he’s able to take over a game on the glass,” Hurd said. “People don’t take as much pride in that as they should. If you’re a guy who can stand out as a rebounder or a physical presence in the lane, that’s something that’s still appreciated. There are a lot of guys that can hit shots. There aren’t a lot of guys that can affect the game in the dirty categories.”

Baldwin planned to keep improving over his senior year.

“I don’t want to take steps back. I want to keep moving forward, working on my game and getting academically sound,” he said. “I just want to make sure I’m prepared for college.”

He said he chose UMass to be close to his own family and because the Minuteman program felt like one.

“I’m a family-oriented guy. It’s nice for my parents and my grandparents to be able to watch me play college ball,” he said. “Through he whole recruiting process with (head coach Derek) Kellogg and (assistant coach Adam) Ginsburg, they just made it feel like it was a second home.”

UMass hasn’t had much success recruiting Massachusetts players since the late 1990s. Tony Gaffney and Anthony Gurley are the lone Bay State natives to make an impact in recent years, but they both transferred to Amherst. Landing Baldwin could help reopen the door to in-state prospects.

“He’s a huge recruit for UMass. programs are built on their ability to draw local kids into your program. He’s a great get for UMass,” Pastore said. “They could potentially get some more. There are some other good players they might end up getting because of this.”



ESPN evaluated him as follows:

Strengths:

Baldwin has a wealth of natural tools and talent at his disposal. He’s naturally powerful and plenty athletic for a player of his build. He has good touch around the rim and has worked himself into a consistent shooting threat from 15-18 feet and can attack a defender with a bounce or two. He runs the floor well, can play both the four and five spots, is a very good rebounder and also has the soft hands to come up with tough catches in traffic.

Weaknesses:

The consistency of his motor used to be the biggest concern, but few players have done more of a 180 in this department as his maturation has been very impressive. On the floor, Baldwin doesn’t have much of a refined post game and is probably best suited to be a secondary scoring threat, yet one who is capable of getting double figures on a consistent basis. He’s a good rebounder, who has the potential to be great on the glass.

Bottom Line:

He proved himself to be a high-major recruit in his last summer on the circuit. He’s a strong body and good athlete with moves well, catches, finishes, rebounds and makes open shots out to 15-18 feet.

UMass hasn’t had much success recruiting Massachusetts players since the late 1990s as Tony Gaffney and Anthony Gurley are the lone Bay State natives to make an impact in recent years and they were both transfers. Landing Baldwin, who was being pursued by DePaul, West Virginia, Creighton and Temple, could help reopen the door to in-state prospects.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage


 


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