New London, CT: When heavyweight prospect Cassius Chaney steps into the ring on July 25, 2015 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada to face Edward Ramirez, in addition to his trainer Peter Manfredo, he will have his long-time mentor former NBA star Vin Baker in his corner. Baker has been Chaney’s mentor for more than ten years and their bond continues to grow stronger as Chaney seeks navigate the rough waters of professional boxing.
Chaney, 28, is originally from Baltimore, Maryland but moved to New London, Connecticut to attend high school at Baker’s alma mater, Old Saybrook High School. According to Chaney, playing basketball for Vin’s school was a dream come true for him. He said, “I knew who Vin was and that was a big part of the reason why I wanted to go to that school for a chance to be like him. After my freshman year, I wasn’t really sure if I was going to go back there. I didn’t really play a lot as a freshman and I thought I should have. Vin came back and he talked to me and we exchanged numbers and from then on he just took me under his wing like a little brother.”
Baker has maintained that big brother role for Chaney ever since. “To be honest, there are not a lot of young African-American men that go to Old Saybrook with the natural basketball ability that both Cassius and I possess so it was just kind of a natural fit that I took him under my wing while he was playing at my high school. We just have been brothers ever since,” explained Baker.
According to Chaney, Baker has instilled in him a fire to be great and desire to remain humble that has helped keep him grounded and focused on his craft. Chaney explained, “The best advice that Vin has given me is to keep my faith, stay humble, work hard and things would fall into place. He has just been a role model for me. I was there when I was younger with all the things that he went through and he brings them back up to me sometimes to remind me to keep my life together.”
Chaney has taken that advice to heart. Since making his professional debut earlier this year he has had the opportunity to work as a sparring partner with some top notch fighters. He said, “I helped Eric Molina for his fight with Deontay Wilder. I sparred with Amir Mansour when I first started boxing. I also worked with Malik Scott, Gerald Washington, Dominic Breazeale, Charles Martin and Zhang Zhilei from New Jersey the Chinese Olympian. I have been to some pretty good camps.”
Both Baker and Chaney credit Chaney’s time in Big Bear Lake, California with Charles Martin as the most impactful event so far in his young career. Chaney said, “The Big Bear experience was extremely different because I got to be around guys that only box. They don’t work because their job is boxing. It is a lot easier to concentrate on boxing when that is all you have to do. It felt good being with Charles Martin, being in the altitude and just living boxing. I was happy that I helped him prepare for that fight.”
Baker added, “He talked about Big Bear quite a bit when he came back. Obviously the conditioning aspect of it was different and it was a new challenge for him, but it was also important for him to see other people having boxing be everything to them. Cassius understands, he is a sponge. He now knows he needs to take it as serious as anything he has ever done because in boxing there are so many distractions outside of the ring. Boxing is a very different sport; it isn’t like other sports, one bad night of boxing can change everything. So I tell Cassius to treat every day like it is your fight day. There is a high reward but the risk is probably equally as high. Take it seriously.”
The influence Baker has had on Cassius has also affected him outside of the ring. Cassius is employed as a case worker, helping troubled young men in his hometown of New London. “I am a mentor,” explained Chaney. “I get different, they say cases, but I get different boys who have gone through difficult situations in their lives and I come across more as a big brother than someone that is like a parent. I just try to help them as a big brother, like Vin helped me. We go out to movies and I take them to sporting events, things like that. I just try to keep them engaged especially with myself. If they get a chance to see me do it, then they will believe that they can do it.”
Chaney has even taken on the mentor role with Baker’s own son, Vin Junior. Baker explained, “He is my son’s big brother now. Vin Jr. would rather be with Cassius all day then be with me. Cassius is a tremendous mentor. He is always with young men. He is working with them and taking them to the gym. He calls my house to ask for Vin Jr. to go and workout every single day. It is just a credit to the type of young man he is. I think that he has passed down the legacy I had with him: If you are in a position to empower young men, make sure you do it. It strengthens him too. He does it so naturally, it’s not forced. He’s not asking for attention or media he does it every single day.”