The Arizona Wildcats landed Kentucky transfer Jemarl Baker Jr. on Tuesday, a 6-foot-4 swingman who averaged 2.3 points per game this past season.
A former four-star recruit, Baker missed his freshman season with knee surgery and only played 9.1 minutes per game as a redshirt freshman, meaning he is somewhat of an unknown as he heads to Tucson.
We wanted to know more about Baker, so we caught up with Jason Marcum, managing editor of ASeaOfBlue.com, for some insight.
Here is our Q&A.
Why did Baker leave Kentucky?
It was a combination of wanting a bigger role and wanting to be closer to home. Going from California to Kentucky can be a shell-shock for players, and there were always rumblings he was homesick.
Combined with Kentucky getting five-star guard after five-star guard in every class, Baker saw it was going to be hard for him to ever be more than a 10-15 minute player, even though he played a big role for the Cats at times this season.
Baker was most known for his shooting coming out of high school, but his percentages at Kentucky weren’t great. Why do you think that was?
The shooting, to me, it was a combination of missing so much time with knee injuries and not having enough confidence. Every time he went into a game, he knew he was on a short leash and needed to produce just to keep getting a handful of minutes each game. The short leash is always one of the easiest ways to drain a player of his confidence.
Other than shooting, what does he bring to the table?
Baker developed into a solid defender as a redshirt freshman and even helped stifle Fletcher Magee in the NCAA Tournament, now known as The Jemarl Baker Game. His shooting is streaky, but if nothing else, he’ll be a solid defender on the wing moving forward with Arizona.
What are his weaknesses?
Confidence and health are the two big ones. Between the knee surgery as a freshman and the knee swelling this summer that ended up costing him the early part of the regular season showed the biggest improvement he needs to make is just getting stronger and conditioned enough to last for a full season.
Baker also needs to expand his offense to being just more than a shooter. But to be fair, Kentucky had plenty of guys who could create their own shot. They just needed Baker to be a consistent shooter to help space the floor.
What prevented him from having a bigger role?
Everything mentioned above, plus the fact Kentucky had Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson getting all of the minutes on the perimeter. That’s four former five-star recruits, so it’s not like Baker was given a real chance to showcase himself in a bigger role. He was never getting that with those guys on the roster.
How much of a role would Baker have had as a freshman if he were healthy?
Kentucky badly needed a shooter like him in the 2017-18 season. They were expecting him to have a role on that team, but the surgery ultimately cost him the entire season.
What do you think is his ceiling as a player?
Baker really reminds me of what Dominique Hawkins became for the Wildcats. His role slowly grew throughout his four years in Lexington to the point he was a key bench player on a team that came within a shot of making the Final Four and could have won it had they gotten past North Carolina.
Hawkins was a better driver, an area Baker must improve at, but they were both good defenders who could space the floor with their three-point shooting. Hawkins’ senior season numbers won’t jump off the table, but he played with Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox, so I think he would have been fine as a sixth man or fifth-best starter. That’s the kind of role I envision for Baker moving forward, and I think it’s also his ceiling.