Kentucky made it official Thursday by announcing that freshman guard Jemarl Baker had undergone surgery on his left knee last week. He will be sidelined for three months.
After UK beat Morehead State in an exhibition game Monday, Coach John Calipari said Baker might be sidelined for an extended period of time. Baker has missed most of the preseason workouts because of knee soreness.
“I’m disappointed I won’t be able to join my brothers on the court to start the season but I’m looking forward to getting my knee back to 100 percent so I can help this team chase our goals,” Baker said in a news release. “I want to thank everyone for the well-wishes and I can’t wait to get back out there with the team.”
Earlier this preseason, Calipari said that Baker had experienced knee problems in high school. A surgery at that time proved unsuccessful, the UK coach said.
“Jemarl let us know a few weeks ago that something wasn’t feeling right with his knee,” Calipari said in a news release. “He had surgery before he got here and it didn’t heal quite like we had hoped it would. The good news is, with this surgery we’re going to get this thing right and get Jemarl back during league play. We were hopeful he would provide us some immediate shooting, but now it’s like getting a midyear guy that can help provide us some depth as we get into the heart of our season. Our main focus at this point is getting him healthy for the rest of his career.”
Baker, who is from Menifee, Calif., originally committed to California. He decommitted after Cuonzo Martin left California to become coach at Missouri.
Baker came to Kentucky billed as a shooter, a designation he shied from. He said he was more than simply a shooter. ESPN ranked him as the 66th overall player and the 16th-best shooting guard in the class.
Baker, a 6-foot-4 guard, averaged 17.1 points, 4.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds as a senior. He led Eleanor Roosevelt High School to its first-ever California state title. He made 94 three-point shots as a senior and shot with 44 percent accuracy from beyond the arc.
After UK beat Morehead State, Calipari tried to tamp down fan concern about the team’s perimeter shooting.
“We’re not as bad as everybody says shooting the ball,” Calipari said. “I mean, I’m with them every day. But we’re more of an athletic, driving, throw-the-ball-at-the-basket-(and)-go-rebound-it kind of team, too.”
UK made six of 16 three-point shots in beating Morehead State 92-67.
After the exhibition game, teammates said Baker’s absence would affect Kentucky’s team.
“It’s going to hurt us,” Quade Green said. “Not having another guy out there. We’ll have to rely on everybody else, now.”
Hamidou Diallo echoed that sentiment.
“Definitely a big impact,” he said of Baker being sidelined.
Kentucky leads the series with Centre 25-19. The teams haven’t played since UK won 47-11 on Feb. 13, 1929.
Still, Centre’s 19 victories against UK are more than six Southeastern Conference teams have achieved. Arkansas (11), Auburn (18), Missouri (zero), Ole Miss (13), South Carolina (11) and Texas A&M (three) have beaten UK fewer times than Centre.
Only eight teams have beaten UK more times: Tennessee (69), Vanderbilt (47), Florida (38), Alabama (37), LSU (26), Indiana (25), North Carolina (24) and Mississippi State (20).
Centre’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity plans to continue a tradition by bringing a portrait of Fred Vinson to the game.
Vinson, a native of Louisa and a Centre grad, was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1946 until his death in 1953. His portrait, affectionately known as “Dead Fred,” is brought to Centre football and basketball games.
The portrait was also at the two vice presidential debates held at Centre: in 2000 (Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney) and 2012 (Joe Biden and Paul Ryan).
‘Smiles on our faces’
Coach Greg Mason said the game at Kentucky thrills Centre: basketball program and school.
“Our campus community couldn’t be more excited,” he said. “Other than the vice presidential debates we had here twice, I’ve never seen our campus like this.”
Mason expressed gratitude for UK inviting Centre to play and make a “lifelong memory” for his players.
“We’re going to go out there and play with smiles on our faces,’ he said. “When something good happens, good for us. We’re going to celebrate. If something good happens for Kentucky, we’re going to get back in transition.”
The priorities Mason mentioned for Centre may be voiced repeatedly by Kentucky opponents this season.
“At the end of the day, can we rebound with them?” he said. “And can we stop them in transition?”
▪ Mason, a Centre grad (Class of ’94) and a point guard for the team, said he grew up a Kentucky fan in Shelby County. Charles Hurt was a basketball hero.
▪ Famous Centre graduates include iconic UK play-by-play announcer Cawood Ledford and two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.
▪ Richard Cross and Daymeon Fishback will call Friday night’s game for the SEC Network.