SDSU sophomore Chad Baker-Mazara is a natural.
When he was around two years old, his mother put a basketball hoop in his crib. The first time he picked up the ball that came with the hoop, he threw it up. It went in. Baker-Mazara’s parents looked at each other. It was the first sign of a love affair with a game that will play out over the next few years with the Aztecs.
Baker-Mazara was blessed with opportunities on his path to the Mesa few players have. His dad, Derrek Baker, was a professional basketball player, spent years playing for the Dominican Republic Men’s National Basketball Team, and leveraged that experience to move into coaching after his playing days were done. Baker never pushed basketball onto his son. He even endured Baker-Mazara’s soccer phase, though it pained him when Baker-Mazaza would beg for Messi cleats instead of swooning over Lebron gear.
When basketball became the chosen path, however, Baker made sure Baker-Mazara always played the wing even when he was the tallest player on his club teams. From the time Baker-Mazara was 11 or 12 years old, he regularly practiced with the teams his dad led. It developed in him a high basketball IQ and a tenacity because he was playing against grown men.
“Chad Baker, I think he is a pro,” Matt Bradley told EVT when asked about teammates who have stood out to him. “He just has to get a little more mature. It’s his second year of college, so once he learns – just like me, I feel like a freshman coming in learning the defense and what’s required of me – once me and him both learn that, I think we will be great players, hopefully.”
“Mature” is the most important part of Bradley’s quote. In years past, transfers from other programs were typically the most seasoned players on the roster, but with the new one-time transfer rule, a new profile is forming. Instead of stepping onto the floor as grown men like those in the past, many of the new wave of players migrating to new programs are underclassmen. Baker-Mazara has NBA potential, but how much progress he makes towards reaching that ceiling in 2021-2022 will be decided by how responsible he becomes on and off the court.
Fortunately, responsibility is what brought him to SDSU in the first place. When he initially transferred from Duquesne, his family was nervous about giving up a Division I scholarship. But, less than 24 hours later, their fears were alleviated. Forty-eight schools reached out to Derrek Baker on the first day his son’s name appeared in the transfer portal. After Zoom meetings with Oregon and SDSU, Baker-Mazara, his dad, and grandfather, Bailey Baker, chose the Aztecs because Brian Dutcher and his staff emphasized the personal growth and responsibility players at SDSU assume for their own development.
“I am his dad,” Baker told EVT when asked what his son’s potential is. “I want what he wants. Every kid wants to go to the NBA. Maybe if he does what Dutcher tells him, he can make it. If not, he has his passport here (in the Dominican Republic). He can have his passport in Europe. If he wants to, he can make some money playing basketball.”
When Baker-Mazara arrived on the Mesa, he did not fully embrace the high expectations. He had trouble adjusting to the defense played at SDSU but did not do himself any favors by how he dedicated himself to his craft. At one point, SDSU assistant Chris Acker called home to give his dad the update. Baker asked if he needed to fly to San Diego to help the situation, but Acker assured him Baker-Mazara was fully supported.
That Baker-Mazara needed time to adjust to a new city, new school, and new program is not surprising. Neither has his response over the past month. The maturity his family and coaches have demanded and hoped for has shined through in practices, film study, and in the classroom. Baker-Mazara is a person of high character. He has been his whole life. He lives life and plays basketball with an infectious enthusiasm that brightens every room he walks into. How his focus and determination translate onto the court, this season is still to be determined.
“Personality-wise, he fit in right away,” Acker told EVT. “The year at Duquesne helped him a ton with how hard you have to compete to be a Division I athlete. His first practice, he jumped into one of our shell drills, and it was like he was there the whole time. He brings a swagger to our team, an element of confidence to our team.”
Defensively, he can be flat-footed at times and fail to stay in front of his man. While his seven-foot wingspan allows him to get back into the play, coming over the top for blocked shots at the rim, penetrating guards put tremendous pressure on SDSU’s defense. As he learns to keep players in front of him, and his teammates learn that they do not need to panic when a player momentarily moves past him, he should thrive on that end of the floor. Aside from that, his defensive training at Duquesne has served him well with the Aztecs, and he knows all of the subtle tricks that make SDSU one of the elite defensive teams in the country.
Offensively, Baker-Mazara’s all-around skills will likewise emerge as he grows more comfortable with his teammates. He can lead the fast break, spot up in transition, or get to the rim. In the half-court, he can score at all levels, play with the ball in his hands, run off-ball screens, space out the floor from various positions, and cut to the basket for easy buckets.
More than anything, Baker-Mazara is competitive. Like he has done his entire life against the older players on his dad’s professional teams, he answers the bell on each possession. His length makes him an active rebounder. He gets to loose balls and already plays with the characteristic Aztec grit.
“Deceptively, he has a great feel,” Acker said. “Offensively, the ability to think out there, to make reads and make decisions with the ball in your hands, and put the ball on the floor and be dynamic. I think he has the ability to do that as he continues to get better and focus in those areas. He’s also a guy who can stand out there and make open threes, and he’s a guy that can guard a little bit. He’s a basketball player, and the more basketball players you have on the floor, the more guys that are thinking and playing and competing, trying to do whatever it takes to win. I think he’s one of those guys.”
Baker-Mazara and his dad frequently exchanged videos of the raucous crowd at Viejas Arena. He cannot wait to consistently play in front of one of the best fan bases in the nation. In turn, sooner rather than later, Aztec nation will show up in droves to appreciate the enthusiasm and passion Baker-Mazara brings to the basketball court. Over the next few years, a love affair will form between the Dominican native and an adoring fan base that will last a lifetime.