UK’s Jemarl Baker just wanted to make an impact
University of Kentucky redshirt freshman guard Jemarl Baker has decided to transfer.
Baker’s departure comes as a bit of a surprise given that he was one of the few UK players at season’s end who sounded pretty sure he’d be back in Lexington next season.
Asked if he planned to be at Kentucky next year after the Wildcats’ season-ending loss to Auburn in the NCAA Tournament, Baker said, “This was a great season. I am going to work hard all summer and (being at UK) is the plan.”
Baker sat out his entire freshman season because of a knee injury. He finally made his Wildcats debut in 2018-19 in the season’s ninth game against Seton Hall.
Baker, a 6-foot-4 native of Menifee, Calif., ended up playing in 28 games, averaging 9.1 minutes and 2.3 points.
“I want to thank the Big Blue Nation for supporting me during my two years at Kentucky,” Baker said in a UK news release. “You are truly the best fans in the country and I’ve enjoyed my time here wearing the Blue and White.”
Baker, who came to UK billed as a sharp-shooting three-point threat, would again face an uphill battle for playing time in what is expected to be a crowded backcourt next season.
Freshman guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley recently announced they both would be returning. Several of UK’s incoming recruits are also able to fill backcourt positions.
“After talking with Coach Cal, the staff and my family, I feel it’s in my best interest to continue my academic and basketball career elsewhere,” Baker said. “I’ve made lifelong relationships with my brothers and the staff at Kentucky and have improved so much as a player. I’m thankful for the opportunities it’s given me to be a part of this historic program.”
Baker joined Kentucky as a consensus four-star prospect out of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in California. He averaged 17.1 points, 4.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game as a senior and led Roosevelt to its first-ever state title.
“We haven’t had many players leave us but in all cases we stay in touch and continue to try to help,” UK head coach John Calipari said in the news release. “In Jemarl’s case, his injury in his first year and even the early part of this year set him back a little bit, but I still believe he’s an impact player who can score and defend. He’s a better defender than people give him credit for, and we knew we could play him this season in any situation because we knew he was always going to defend. I appreciate everything he did for this program. Like any kid that leaves us, I’ll be watching his career from afar. We’ll always be here for him.”
Other players who have transferred to other schools during Calipari’s 10 seasons as UK coach are Darnell Dodson, Stacey Poole, Ryan Harrow, Kyle Wiltjer, Charles Matthews, Marcus Lee, Tai Wynyard, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Quade Green.
In the locker room after the Auburn loss, Baker explained how he benefited from two years at Kentucky, even though one was spent watching from the sidelines.
“Last year I kind of got a cheat sheet to see what was going on. I guess, now that I actually got to (experience) all the little things that matter and go into winning and I got to learn from great coaches, . . . now it’s just time for me to work on my individual game.”
Herald-Leader staff writer Jerry Tipton contributed to this article.