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UK adding shooting guard to top recruiting class

BY BEN ROBERTS Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON -- Jemarl Baker didn't need long to mull over his scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky, and the Wildcats now have an important addition to their roster for next season.

Baker -- a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from the Los Angeles area -- announced his commitment to UK on Tuesday, just four days after he received a scholarship offer during a visit in California with John Calipari and Wildcats assistant Joel Justus.

Though UK already had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for 2017, the program was looking for at least one more guard to replace the loss of every scholarship backcourt player from this past season's team.

Specifically, the Wildcats wanted a shooter. They got one.

"Jemarl brings shooting to the table," said Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels. "I think that was what Kentucky's recruiting class was missing. He's a really good shooter off the catch, and he has good range and a quick release. He's exactly what Kentucky needed.

"Even in the past couple of years, they could've always used another shooter. They already had the No. 1 class in the country, but this really balances it out."

Kentucky was ranked No. 159 nationally in 3-point percentage this past season, and the Wildcats have finished in the Top 100 in that category only once over the past five seasons. (The 2015-16 squad was 75th nationally from long range).

Baker, who's first name is pronounced like "Jamal," made 94 threes as a high school senior this past season, and he led the Under Armour circuit in long-range shooting last summer.

He averaged 17.1 points, 4.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals for Roosevelt High School in Corona, California, and he quickly emerged as one of the Wildcats' top backcourt targets after their season ended last month.

Baker, who was committed to California until the departure of coach Cuonzo Martin, joins a recruiting class that already included five-star point guard Quade Green and four-star combo guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo joined UK's team midway through the season as a practice player, though he's still considered part of the Wildcats' 2017 recruiting class.

Of those players -- and the others expected to be on UK's roster next season -- Daniels said that Green was the only Wildcat that had proven he could shoot "at a good clip" from long range.

Baker is now expected to be the best shooter on next season's team, which loses senior guards Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder, as well as underclassmen Isaiah Briscoe, De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk.

"There should be minutes for him," Daniels said of Baker. "If you look at the roster, they don't have depth on the wing. Especially at that two-guard spot. With the guys that are leaving, there's room for somebody to come in and get big minutes at that spot.

"Look, there are not a lot of knockdown shooters out there. And to be able to get one this late is a big deal."

Baker is also another player who could add some much-needed continuity to UK's program, which is now used to annual turnover due to one-and-done departures.

Only Diallo and five-star center Nick Richards are currently projected as one-and-done picks in 2018, according to DraftExpress.com, and there's a good chance that UK could return several talented players from this class for two or more seasons.

Scout.com ranks Baker as the No. 86 overall prospect in the 2017 class.

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