Jemarl Baker Jr. brings experience to the Arizona men's basketball team

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Amy Bailey | The Daily Wildcat Wildcat Jemarl Baker Jr. shoots a free throw during the second half of the Arizona-Chico State game at the McKale Center on Friday November 1 in Tucson. Arizona defeated Chico State 74-65.

Former four-star guard Jemarl Baker decided to transfer from the University of Kentucky to the University of Arizona after two years. Many believed he would have to sit out the entire 2019-2020 season due to transferring in the offseason.

However, to Arizona’s surprise, Baker's immediate eligibility waiver was approved by the NCAA. The waiver was approved due to him losing approximately one and a half seasons at Kentucky because of injury and went through just days before the Wildcats began the season, allowing him to participate in all games this year. 

Baker had to sit out his entire freshman season at Kentucky after having season-ending knee surgery in October of 2017. In his redshirt freshman season, Baker struggled to get regular minutes in Head Coach John Calipari’s rotation, as he only appeared in 28 games that season. He only averaged 2.3 points per game while shooting 33% from the field, 73% from the free throw line and 31% from the three point line in only about 9.1 minutes per game. 

After his redshirt freshman year ended, he decided to enter his name in the transfer portal and allow other teams to offer him scholarships. By the end of his recruitment, the Los Angeles native was considering moving to St. Mary's, Marquette, Arizona or ASU, but he ultimately decided to take his talents to Arizona.

Baker came to Arizona with existing relationships with current players, as he played in the same organization, “West Coast Elite,” in the same AAU circuit as Josh Green and Nico Mannion. There was plenty to like when Baker decided to come to Arizona.

“I like the family atmosphere here," Baker said. "I’ve been knowing Ira [Lee], I’ve been knowing Nico [Mannion] and Josh [Green] for quite a bit now.”

After committing to the Wildcats in May 2019, he would waste no time getting used to the university. 

“I got here in July, and I only went home for a little in August then I was back for the start of school,” Baker said. 

He wanted to get early work in with his new teammates before the season, so he decided to get to campus about a month before school started, but there was also a little fun mixed in with the hard work he put in this summer.

Some of his teammates showed him some popular restaurants around campus.

“We went to Mr. An’s, that was delicious, and Ira introduced me to Panda House, which is pretty good,” Baker said. 

It did not take long for Baker to make friendships on the team, as he and his teammates frequently went out to dinner together.        

Playing at one of the blue-bloods of college basketball can give players a lot of experience they might not be able to get anywhere else, especially playing for Calipari with all the success he's brought to Kentucky.

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Baker’s eligibility supplies much needed leadership on the court, which is important due to three out of the team's five starters being freshmen. He will also have to be a much more important contributor offensively this season, as the Wildcats lost their projected starting shooting guard Brandon Williams to a season-ending knee surgery over the offseason.

On the court, the 6-foot-4 swingman provides much needed leadership and athletic ability on the defensive end. He also looks to help his team on the offensive side of the ball with his ability to shoot both the mid-range shot and the three-point shot.

Currently, the upperclassman comes off the bench for the Wildcats, as the starting role has been filled by senior guard Dylan Smith. In Baker's debut for the Wildcats against NAU, he was able to collect nine points, three steals and three assists while shooting 50% from the field. If Baker can continue his effective play on the defensive side of the ball and continue to make his shots, Head Coach Sean Miller will become more and more comfortable putting him on the court as the Wildcats look to try and make a run in this year's NCAA Tournament.


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