How healthy is Kentucky guard Jemarl Baker?
Reporters did not need to convince Jemarl Baker that he is the mystery man on Kentucky’s basketball team.
“Yeah, I am,” he said Thursday. “I’m a mystery man to the coaches, too.”
Of course, a knee injury from the final game of his high school senior season sidelined Baker for his entire freshman season at Kentucky.
So what will UK coaches and fans learn about Baker once the mystery is removed next season?
“That I’m a really good player,” he said. “I’m just ready to go out there and show it.”
When told that teammate Quade Green declined to say which player should be considered UK’s best shooter, Baker said, “I don’t know why he wouldn’t comment on that. It’s me.”
Baker did not sound like he was bragging. He smiled as he delivered what fell on reporters’ ears as light-hearted banter.
The mystery will remain until August when Kentucky plays four exhibition games in the Bahamas. A feeling of living in a basketball twilight zone might take longer to fade away.
“I feel like I’m new and a veteran at the same time,” he said. “I feel old, but I feel like a new player because I haven’t played yet.”
Baker got fitted for his cloak of invisibility in the final game of his high school career. He led Roosevelt High School to its first ever California state championship. But during the title game, he bumped knees with an opponent. The result was a bone bruise and torn meniscus in his left knee. He underwent knee surgery in late October and did not play last season.
“It was tough, but I enjoyed it as well,” Baker said, sounding like he wanted to make the most of a lost season. “Early on, it was really tough. . . . Then when I was ruled out for the year, it was pretty tough at first.”
Although initially finding the inactivity “pretty depressing,” Baker came to consider last season as a chance to grow, if not play.
“I looked at all the practices and things as a positive,” he said. “Being able to get a front row seat at all the games, getting myself prepared and having a cheat sheet for this year.”
Baker pronounced himself 100 percent healthy.
“Feeling good other than trying to get myself into really great shape,” he said.
How far is he from really great shape?
“I’m on my way,” he said with a coy smile. “By the time the Bahamas come, I should be in great shape.”
Baker came to Kentucky billed as one of the premier shooters in the country. He credited his father, who played for Cal State Northridge, for helping him develop his shooting ability.
“Uh, pretty deep,” he said. “I shoot from pretty far. I’ll just have to show it.”
In responding to a question about having a green light, Baker acknowledged that it was mid-June. With the first game more than four months away, it was too early for lights of any color or drawing conclusions.
But, he added, “I’m definitely going to shoot it, and see what (UK Coach John Calipari) says.
Although confident in his own shooting ability, Baker did not claim to be Kentucky’s only shooter. When asked if incoming freshman Tyler Herro could fill up the basket in a similar way, he said, “Sure can. Yeah.”
But like many players, Baker does not want to be typecast as a shooter.
“I like to defend,” he said. “I actually like to defend. . . . I’m a basketball player. I’m not just a shooter.”