By LARRY VAUGHT
Even as a high school sophomore, Jemarl Baker was known as a shooter with the potential to be a solid defender and passer in college. That’s why he got several early Division I offers and verbally committed to coach Cuonzo Martin at California.
His shooting only got better. He made 94 3-pointers as a senior at Roosevelt High School in California and averaged 17.1 points, 4.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. He also asked out of his commitment to California when Martin left to become head coach at Missouri and last week gave Kentucky coach John Calipari the shooter he needed when he signed with the Wildcats.
While he’s not a national name like many Calipari signees, the 6-4 Baker is a consensus top 100 player, a four-star recruit and had other scholarship offers from San Diego State, Oklahoma State, Nevada, Providence and Southern California.
Rivals.com recruiting writer Krysten Peek (@KP_Rivals on Twitter) has seen the 6-3, 185-pound Baker play and knows what he can do from long range.
“He has a quick release and isn't afraid to shoot it with someone in his face. If he's hot one game and starts knocking them down from the 3, his two-dribble pull up jumper is there when the defense crashes,” she said. “In December I saw him hit seven 3’s and finish with 27 points against the Ball brothers and Chino Hills.”
The Ball brothers were senior LiAngelo and sophomore LaMelo, who had 92 points in a game in February. Their older brother, Lonzo, was a freshman standout at UCLA this year and LiAngelo will be at UCLA next season. Chino Hills was one of the nation’s top teams.
“Baker held LaMelo Ball to 17 points and if you know anything about LaMelo Ball, that's pretty impressive,” Peek said.
He’s the fourth guard in Kentucky’s 2017 recruiting class. Quade Green of Philadelphia, who had 10 assists in last week’s Jordan Brand Classic, was a McDonald’s All-American. Hamidou Diallo of New York was one of the top-ranked players in the 2017 class before deciding to sign and enroll at UK in January where he was redshirted for the rest of the season. Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga played in the Nike Hoop Summit and was MVP of the Derby Classic in Louisville last week when he scored 29 points and won the 3-point shooting contest.
“Hamidou is an athletic freak so I wouldn't really compare Baker and him,” Peek said. “I would say Jemarl is a good hybrid of Green and Diallo. Not as quick with the handle as Quade and not as athletic as Hami, but he can shoot the ball better than both of them and can handle the point in a half or full court situation.”
Calipari could have sought a junior college transfer or graduate transfer to fill his need for a shooter in what is now a seven-player signing class. It would surprise Peek — and most others — if Baker is not at UK for several years.
“If Isaiah Briscoe can make the NBA, then I'd say there's a place somewhere for Jemarl Baker. Steph Curry is transforming the league (NBA) to a shooter friendly style of play so if he keeps his shot, I think there's room for him in two or three years,” Peek said.
She thought Kentucky was an “interesting” pick for Baker because normally top 100 players are looking for spots they can be assured of playing time, something that won’t happen at Kentucky for him.
“He'll be a great asset off the bench and I think once the season starts he'll settle in as a two guard,” Peek said. “Much like Malik (Monk) and De'Aaron (Fox) this year, both him and Quade are capable of bringing the ball up and handling the pressure. Who knows maybe he'll be chasing Malik's 3-point record (104) this year.”
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