Adrian Baldwin, 2020, St. Frances Academy

by Derek Toney

St. Frances Academy boys basketball team was experiencing one of its worst seasons when Adrian Baldwin’s follow-up at buzzer lifted the Panthers to a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Chicago’s Morgan Park. Moments later, Baldwin was carried off the floor by his teammates.

It was arguably the first of many signature moments for Baldwin, VSN’s No. 2 Boys Basketball Guard of the Decade. The point guard was the conduit for an impressive three-year run by the East Baltimore school.

St. Frances won 108 games and three consecutive Baltimore Catholic League Tournament championships with the lefty playmaker. The Panthers also finished No. 1 in the final VSN Top 20 rankings.

“He’s got to be one of the best players to come out of St. Frances and one of the best to come out of Baltimore,” said St. Frances coach Nick Myles. “His will to win, the drive to want to win every game, every second.”

Described as an old school point guard, Baldwin, nicknamed “Ace,” relished creating scoring opportunities for teammates.

“Relentless, Baltimore tough guard who plays with his heart and gives it all he got every night,” Myles said. “His best attribute is on defensive end. He is a great playmaker and scorer, but he is point guard from the 1980s. He is a point guard who wants to grind it out and play both ends of the floor.”

After its first losing season since 2001-02 (9-18), St. Frances, led by Baldwin, returned atop of the BCL. The Panthers defeated rival Mount St. Joseph, overcoming a 12-point second half deficit. Baldwin, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, was named tourney MVP.

“We just needed to play defense and keep fighting,” said Baldwin, who averaged 14 points, seven assists and three steals in the 2017-18 season. “We just needed to be patient on offense.”

“We put the ball in his hands and told him to win us this championship and that’s exactly what he did,” said Myles.

Baldwin did just that as well in his junior campaign, hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving St. Frances a 71-68 victory over St. Maria Goretti in the 48th BCL Tournament final. He finished with 25 points, eight assists, seven steals and six rebounds as the Panthers overcame a 10-point deficit late in the third quarter.

Tom Strickler, a Baltimore-based evaluator for National Recruiting Report, said Baldwin’s “court awareness is surreal,” as well as his ability to take over.

“When it’s time to take wheel, just give it to him,” Strickler said. “He’ll steer you away from the iceberg.”

Adrian Baldwin (left) was an impact performer as a freshman for Virginia Commonwealth this past season. The St. Frances grad was a two-time VSN Player of the Year and three-time Baltimore Catholic League Tournament Most Valuable Player.

Baldwin won his second straight BCL Tourney MVP award and was first-team on the BCL regular season team, MIAA A and All-Metro squads. He excelled despite father, Adrian Sr., being diagnosed with Leukemia.

Adrian Baldwin Sr. died July 20, 2019 at the age of 39.

“He was my best friend, that’s what he was like to me,” said Ace Baldwin, who was introduced to basketball at age 7 by his father.

Baldwin said it was difficult not seeing his father in the stands at the start of his senior season. He also struggled with a wrist injury.

“It motivated me more because that’s what he would want me to do,” said Baldwin. “He wouldn’t want me to stop.”

His flair for late dramatics continued, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter in St. Frances’ victory over three-time defending and eventual Baltimore City champ Poly in front of a capacity audience at Morgan State University’s Hill Field House. He scored 13 in the final quarter as St. Frances wiped out a 13-point deficit in the final six minutes against Mount St. Joseph to secure the BCL regular season title.

In what would be his final game, Baldwin posted 23 points and 10 assists as St. Frances defeated Mount St. Joseph in the 49th BCL Tournament final. He joined BCL icons Mark Karcher (St. Frances) and Rodney Monroe (St. Maria Goreeti) as the only three-time tourney MVP in BCL history.

He had 16 assists in the semifinals. Baldwin, who won VSN’s Player of the Year award in 2019 and 2020 (co-Player of the Year) finished his varsity career with 1,671 points, 770 assists and 505 rebounds.

Baldwin took his talents three hours down I-95 South to Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University. He started all 26 games this past season, averaging 6.7 points and 4.3 assists.

The Rams, who lost in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament final, made the NCAA Tournament. Their first round match with Oregon was declared a no-contest because of several positive COVID-19 tests within the Rams’ program.

Baldwin was named to the Atlantic 10’s All-Rookie Team.

“You know how the game is now…everybody wants to score,” Baldwin said. “I’m not even that type of person. I really want to win.”

No. 3 Boys Basketball Guard: Phil Booth, 2014, Mount St. Joseph

No. 4 Boys Basketball Guard: Immanuel Quickley, 2018, John Carroll School

No. 1 Boys Basketball Center: Jalen Smith, 2018, Mount St. Joseph

No. 2 Boys Basketball Center: Justin Lewis, 2020, Poly

No. 1 Boys Basketball Forward: De’Vondre Perry, 2017, Poly

No. 2 Boys Basketball Forward: Jamal West, 2020, St. Frances Academy

No. 3 Boys Basketball Forward: Demetrius Mims, 2018, Poly

No. 4 Boys Basketball Forward: LaQuill Hardnett, 2018, Perry Hall