The “dead period” for college basketball recruiting ends at noon Thursday, and that means college coaches will be back on the trail, visiting with their top targets.
For UK Coach John Calipari, that means a trip to California to meet with a player who could solve his need for a shooter on next season’s team.
Calipari and UK assistant Joel Justus are scheduled to see 6-foot-4 guard Jemarl Baker on Friday in the Los Angeles area, and he has emerged as one of the top names to fill UK’s expected hole in the backcourt for the 2017-18 campaign.
Baker signed with California last November — after committing to the Bears midway through his junior season — but he asked for and was granted a release from his letter of intent after the departure of Cuonzo Martin, who is now the head coach at Missouri.
Martin’s move could benefit Calipari, who is bringing in five-star point guard Quade Green and four-star combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to play alongside five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo — a spring semester enrollee this past season — but is still searching for at least one more backcourt player to round out UK’s lineup.
Baker, however, might be at the top of the Wildcats’ wish list, and 247Sports national analyst Jerry Meyer said he appears to be the best fit for UK’s needs.
“I think the idea here is to get shooting, and I like him best as a shooter,” Meyer told the Herald-Leader. “All three are good, solid players. Baker just makes the most sense to me. I think he’s the better of the three, and I think he’s the better shooter of the three.
“For comparison’s sake, Mychal Mulder — he’s kind of like that type of player. In other words, he’s not a five-star one-and-done. But he’s good. And he has a specialty: He can really knock down shots.”
Meyer described Baker as a tough player who — although not a point guard — handles the ball well enough to get his own shot and can be trusted not to make silly turnovers.
He averaged 17.1 points and 4.1 assists per game this past season, and — as Meyer mentioned — he’s best known as a knockdown three-point shooter.
Baker shot 44 percent from long range as a junior in high school, led the Under Armour circuit in three-pointers last summer, and made a total of 94 threes as a senior. His range extends well beyond the college three-point line.
Martin called him one of the “best shooters in the country” when Baker signed with the Bears last fall. Now that he’s available again, Baker’s talent has attracted the attention of several major colleges looking to add another three-point threat to their 2017 class.
Baker’s AAU coach, Ryan Silver of Earl Watson Elite, released a list this week of nine schools that the Top 100 recruit is now considering: UK, Duke, Utah, Arizona, Marquette, Maryland, Oregon, Arizona State and San Diego State.
There’s no public group of favorites quite yet, but UK is serious about this recruitment — Calipari wouldn’t fly to the West Coast to meet with Baker otherwise — and the Cats often get their way when they go all in on a prospect at this late stage in the recruiting cycle.
“I think Kentucky has a great chance, because they’re Kentucky,” Meyer said. “Typically, in a situation like this, a school with the renown of a Kentucky isn’t going to pursue a guy unless they really think they’re going to get him. They’re not just throwing darts blindly, like some schools might have to do. That’s just not their M.O.
“They’re not going to mess around with this unless they really think they have a great chance of getting him.”