Jemarl Baker Jr. learned Thursday that he is eligible to play immediately for the Arizona Wildcats. Now it is a matter of getting him up to speed.
Arizona coach Sean Miller said the Kentucky transfer has missed half of Arizona’s practices this preseason, more than any other player on the team, due to a “hip situation.”
Therefore you shouldn’t look too much into his performance Friday when he had seven points and four assists on 2-of-7 shooting in 20 minutes in the 74-65 win over Chico State.
“He did a good job tonight, but that’s just kind of a small percentage of where I believe he’ll be as he gets more comfortable,” Miller said. “Part of it too is the other guys getting more comfortable with him.”
Miller did not divulge why Baker was granted immediate eligibility—”it’s very, very personal. It’s injury-related and things like that,” he said—but the NCAA’s decision did not surprise Baker’s teammates.
“I would have been surprised if he didn’t get it,” said center Chase Jeter, who learned of the news through the team’s group chat. “He deserves it.”
Baker only averaged 2.3 points per game in 28 games at Kentucky last season, so it remains to be seen how effective he can be at the major-college level. It also remains to be seen if he can stay healthy. He missed the 2017-18 season due to a meniscus injury and experienced some swelling in that knee last season.
With Brandon Williams out for the year, Baker’s biggest contributions could come at the 1 as Nico Mannion’s backup. He played both the 1 and the 2 off the bench during Friday’s exhibition.
Baker’s 3-point shooting is the most regarded part of his game, but his teammates insist he is more than just a marksman.
“He brings poise and can score at all three levels,” said junior forward Ira Lee, who was once travel teammates with Baker with the Earl Watson Elite. “He’s actually a really good defender.”
Added Jeter: “Point guard, shooting guard, can knock down the 3, he can take you off the dribble, drive, mid-range, Jemarl’s got a little bit of everything. Defensively, too. So we’re going to be counting on him a lot this year. We’re really excited to have him.”