Despite being Arizona’s top 3-point shooter and posting an absurd 22 to 2 assist-to-turnover ratio, Jemarl Baker Jr. is only averaging 16 minutes per game off the bench.
Head coach Sean Miller said that has to change—and it will.
“You can’t play him 16 minutes a game based on that he’s leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, shooting over 50 percent from 3, maybe our best low-post passer,” Miller said. “He makes great decisions. When he’s out there, the ball moves easy and he’s learning our defense. But I think that’s one of the good parts to our depth.”
Miller said Baker is now at “a different level” than he was earlier in the season. The redshirt sophomore missed half of Arizona’s early-season practices with a hip injury but has now participated in 70 percent of its practices, Miller estimated.
“He’s healthy right now, knock on wood,” he said.
It is the first time in Baker’s college career that that’s true. He missed his true freshman season at Kentucky with a torn meniscus, then averaged 2.3 points per game in his redshirt freshman season as he battled knee swelling, only shooting 32 percent from 3.
Baker’s hot start to his UA career might be surprising to some, but it isn’t for Miller.
“I mean really from the onset as early as June and July when he first came to campus, you could really tell that his shooting, and we were familiar with him out of high school and really knew him well, watched him play a lot,” Miller said.
Baker received a season-high 20 minutes Sunday against Long Beach State, UA’s first game since Devonaire Doutrive’s dismissal, and made the most of it, logging 11 points and seven assists.
With Doutrive gone and Brandon Williams out for the year, it’s hard to overstate how important it is that Baker was granted immediate eligibility.
“He’s been a great spark for us off the bench,” said forward Stone Gettings. “It’s one of the great benefits that our team has is having such a great, deep bench.”