The Arizona Wildcats received some big news Thursday when the NCAA ruled that Kentucky transfer Jemarl Baker Jr. is eligible to play immediately instead of having to sit out a season.
Here is what the redshirt sophomore can bring to the Wildcats in 2019-20.
The Wildcats are coming off their worst 3-point shooting season ever under Sean Miller, so major improvement is needed in that area if they want to get where they want to go.
Fortunately, that is Baker’s bread and butter.
His 3-point percentage at Kentucky (31.0) wasn’t good, but it was also in a very small sample size, as he only hoisted 42 triples in 2018-19.
Baker should benefit from having a more consistent role and better health. The former top-100 recruit missed his true freshman season with a meniscus injury and dealt with swelling last season.
“There were a few points where I was healthy, but my body wasn’t always right,” he said at media day. “But my body is right now and I’m just not looking back.”
Adding Nico Mannion and Max Hazzard are other moves Arizona made to bolster its 3-point shooting, but Baker thinks he is a better marksman than both of them.
“Oh, I would say I’m first,” he said. “But we do have a lot of good shooters, though. I’m confident in myself, but we have a lot of great shooters. We have Max, Dylan (Smith) can shoot it really, Nico can shoot, we have a lot of people that can shoot. We also have big men that can shoot.”
Other forms of scoring
Baker had a limited role at Kentucky, one that essentially relegated him to being a spot-up shooter. Only 19 of his 61 field goal attempts were taken inside the arc. He made seven of them.
An expanded role should allow him to unlock the rest of his game, which, according to UA forward and former travel teammate Ira Lee, is pretty expansive.
“That guy is a bucket,” Lee said. “I call him Old Man Buckets, but that’s my partner in crime. We used to do some damage in high school and to have him here now is exciting, plus he’s my roommate too. A lot of people don’t know that. He’s my roommate. He’s one of my best friends. So it’s great to have him. He can do it all. He can score at all three levels, man. Floaters, mid-range step backs, 3s, especially 3s. You’ll see. He’s a pure shooter.”
While confident in his shooting, Baker described his game as “all-around.”
“I feel like I can do everything,” he said. “And although I feel like I can do everything, I’m just going to do whatever Coach Miller wants me to do.”
Depth—and maybe even a backup point guard
With Brandon Williams out for the season and Jordan Brown out due to NCAA transfer rules, the Wildcats would have entered 2019-20 with 10 scholarship players had Baker not been cleared to play. That would have left them in potentially dire shape any time injuries, suspensions, fatigue, and/or foul trouble popped up.
The most notable dearth of depth was in the backcourt. But with Baker now in the mix, Arizona has a deep rotation that also consists of Mannion, Hazzard, Smith and Devonaire Doutrive, who Miller said might be Arizona’s most improved player. Josh Green’s name could be included here too, but he figures to spend more time at the 3.
One of Arizona’s most pressing issues is finding an adequate backup for Mannion at point guard—that would have been Williams’ role—but Baker should be able to help out there too.
‘Right now in practice I’ve been playing the 1 and the 2 and I like both,” he said in late September. “Just whatever Coach Miller wants me to play, I’ll be ready for.”
Baker’s 247Sports recruiting profile described him as a “quickly improving shooting guard who will be able to play some point guard at the next level.”
“His best attribute is his shooting ability,” it reads. “He can really knock down shots off catch and pull from both midrange and 3. He’s more prone to score with his jumper than attacking the basket, but he will find the open lane to the rim if it’s there. He’s more two than one but his handle has improved some and he’s a good passer. He’s a hard worker who has made strides over the last couple of years. He projects as a productive Pac-12 player.”