Jemarl Baker has logged a solitary minute of playing time during his tenure at the University of Kentucky. He took a medical redshirt his freshman year, but seemed poised to compete for minutes this season.
However, some setbacks with his knee continued to keep him sidelined, as he missed the entirety of the Bahamas trip as well as the first month and a half of the season. He saw his first action in Saturday’s loss to Seton Hall, where he came in for one minute due to other guards being in foul trouble.
On Wednesday, UK officially announced that Quade Green would be transferring mid-year. Although he has not been as productive as expected, that will be a blow to both the chemistry and depth of the backcourt. Green had been the only consistent three-point threat, hitting 42% of his shots from behind the arc, and his veteran leadership was expected to be important among his freshmen counterparts.
Could Jemarl Baker come in and fill both of those roles Green is leaving? Three-point shooting is what Baker is best known for. Everyone who has seen him shoot, in practice or in pregame warm-ups, will tell you that he has as pure of a stroke as you will see. Will that translate to a game situation? Only time will tell.
Baker has also been around for just as long as Green was. He obviously did not play a role on the court, but he has still been in practice, training camp, the weight room, and the Wildcat Coal Lodge. He knows his way around and has been a part of a young, struggling Kentucky team before.
The main question is about John Calipari’s trust of Baker. When Baker was still being held out of practice a month ago, Calipari was kind of giving off that Jarred Vanderbilt “why is this guy not playing?” vibe. But almost as soon as he was made available, Calipari stuck him out there if even for a moment.
Some wonder about Baker’s ability to be anything other than a shooter. One thing is for sure: Baker is underrated as an athlete. That became evident at Kentucky’s pro day back in October.
Despite having the second highest body fat measurement on the team (11.22%), Baker had the fastest time on the entire team in the lane agility drill and the 3⁄4 court sprint. He was also fourth on the team in repetitions (10) with the 185 pound bench press, second among backcourt players to Jonny David (15).
If Baker’s athleticism can translate to the court in the form of defense and rebounding, then Calipari will almost have no choice but to give him a chance in the next few games. Even given Quade Green’s reduction in playing time as of late, there are still 9-10 minutes that will need to be filled in the backcourt rotation.
Will the three freshmen guards carry the load? Or will Jemarl Baker get his opportunity to prove that he deserves to be on the court? We may find out as early as Saturday when the Utah Utes come to town to take on the Wildcats.