Jemarl Baker was a late addition for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats, but he was a necessary one. Malik Monk and Derek Willis were the best outside shooters last season and De’Aaron Fox came on late. But all three of those players are now starting their NBA careers.
The Wildcats are flush with size and athleticism but, as usual with Calipari teams, there are questions as to whether or not they can keep defenses honest by hitting from the three point line. This is Jemarl Baker’s speciality.
The 6-3 guard is from California and was committed to play for Cuonzo Martin and the Cal Golden Bears. But once Martin bolted for Mizzou, Baker reopened his recruitment and it didn’t take long for Calipari to come calling. In a matter of weeks, Baker was a Wildcat.
As the lowest ranked player in the class (#85 according to ESPN), fans didn’t get to see much of him during the All Star Game season. He wasn’t a McDonald’s All American, he didn’t make the Nike Hoops Summit game or the Jordan Brand Classic, but don’t let that fool you. He has plenty of skill and it isn’t just his ability to shoot that sets him apart:
“In high school, I guarded the best player every game,” he said. “It’s something I take pride in. I hate when people score on me. People say I’m a shooter, but I focus on probably everything else a little bit more.
“I can shoot the ball, but I don’t see myself as a shooter. I just know I can shoot. I don’t see myself as just a shooter.
This must be music to Cal’s ears. This team has a chance to be a menace on defense with their speed, length, and athleticism; and it is well known that if a player doesn’t defend the way Cal likes, he will pull the player from the game. Calipari can live with missing shots but he will not tolerate less than above average effort on defense.
This will be important because there may be times during the season that the ‘Cats will need Baker on the floor because of his ability to shoot and keep defenses on their toes. But if he can’t or won’t defend, he’ll be on the bench. Good thing he takes pride in more than just one aspect of his game.
Although it’s nice knowing that he hit 94 three pointers his senior season.