Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Ace Baldwin rushed off the court in tears after St. Frances Academy lost to Baltimore Polytechnic Institute by one point in January of 2019. It was one of the rare moments his mother, Nina Baldwin, had seen her son show emotion on the court.
His father, Adrian Baldwin Sr., had been diagnosed with leukemia that day, so he missed the game and was at the hospital. The older Baldwin rarely missed a game.
“He actually wanted to win because he knew how my husband wanted us to win so bad, and my husband wasn’t there,” Nina Baldwin said. “We just got hit with ‘he has leukemia,’ and him not really knowing what leukemia is.”
In July 2019, Adrian Baldwin Sr. died from leukemia. The loss made Ace Baldwin second-guess playing basketball again without his father in the stands.
“It was a really hard decision on if I really wanted to play, but I just used that as motivation,” Ace Baldwin said. “If I stopped, it would have just let everybody down. I just played and used that as motivation.”
For Ace Baldwin, his father was more than just a parent. On the court, he described him as a coach. Off the court, he was someone Ace Baldwin could talk to about anything.
Nina Baldwin equated their relationship as being good buddies more so than a parental relationship.
“He was my best friend, that’s what he was like to me,” Ace Baldwin said. “I looked at him like ‘that’s my everything,’ for real.”
Nina Baldwin said Ace Baldwin’s senior year in 2019 was a difficult one. It was the first time he played basketball since his father died.
“It was so challenging. Ace was just like on an off button,” Nina Baldwin said. “The only time that he actually would show a little more of a happy emotion was when it was time to play basketball.”
‘Basketball, that’s what makes me happy’
During his high school career, nothing could keep Ace Baldwin off the court — not even a cast for a sprained wrist.
He asked his mom if he could cut it off to play in a big game. She said no. Then, he asked his father, and he approved. So, he cut it off and played.
“It was his word over hers, so I just ended up cutting my cast off and I ended up playing,” Ace Baldwin said. “I felt as though I wasn’t injured — I was hurt. … If you’re injured, you can’t play. If you’re hurt, you can play.”
Ace Baldwin was a standout point guard at St. Frances, amassing more than 1,000 points during his career and earning a retired jersey. At the time of his father’s death, basketball is what kept his spirits up.
“Basketball, that’s what makes me happy,” Ace Baldwin said. “When it first happened, I didn’t really want to do it. My players were just like my brothers. They just wanted me to stay around and keep me laughing because they knew the situation.”
That didn’t change when Ace Baldwin arrived in Richmond. He “started to come out of a dark place” when he joined the Rams and reunited with sophomore guard Bones Hyland, Nina Baldwin said.
Nina Baldwin said the support Hyland and the VCU coaching staff give to her son can’t fill the void of his father, but it’s helped.
“He was missing part of his heart, which was his father,” Nina Baldwin said. “So when he got there, they showed him the love that he felt that he was getting from his dad every day.”
Ace Baldwin has been a mainstay this season in the starting lineup as a freshman. He’s averaged 28.4 minutes and 4.5 assists for the black and gold this season.
Coach Mike Rhoades said Ace Baldwin’s impact has been felt throughout the season.
“When you’re a college point guard and you play college basketball, the No. 1 thing is winning,” Rhoades said. “For a freshman and the way he’s played this year, we wouldn’t be where we are at if it wasn’t for him.”
The Rams strung together a six-game winning streak in January and February.
Ace Baldwin hasn’t scored more than 12 points in a game this season and has had two games without a point. That doesn’t matter to him — winning does, he said.
“To me, I don’t really care about points,” Ace Baldwin said. “I really just care about winning. That’s my main goal, I hate losing.”
When Ace Baldwin looks up into the Stuart C. Siegel Center stands and finds his family, it’s a proud moment, he said. Seeing them support him at games gives him more motivation to play.
“I know he would have come to college and still watch me play,” Ace Baldwin said of his father. “It was hard. I just had to fight through it and just get where I’m at now.”