Jemarl Baker is no stranger to hard work. In high school, his father would wake him up at four in the morning and the two would drive an hour to his school to be there by six so he could get a workout in before class.
“It was definitely tough,” Baker told KSR, recalling how he’d be so tired after school and practice he would pass out in the car. “The toughest thing Iâ€™ve ever gone through, but it definitely helped me. Thatâ€™s how I got here.”
In fact, John Calipari’s promise that Baker would be pushed to his limits at Kentucky was one of the biggest selling points.
“Just like how my dad, he pushes me to be the best I can be, just working me out and pushing me to be great,” Baker said, describing Calipari’s pitch. “And in the meeting, for Coach Cal to say heâ€™s going to push me to be the best version of me, thatâ€™s everything I could ask for.”
Baker’s courtship with Kentucky was a whirlwind. The 6-4 shooting guard from Eastvale, California originally committed to Cal, but when Cuonzo Martin left for Missouri, he reopened his recruitment and, all of a sudden, John Calipari was pulling up to his school.
“The first time I saw him, he actually came to the school,” Baker said. “I hadnâ€™t talked to him on the phone. I was like, ‘Wow, thatâ€™s really him.’ Just seeing him [on TV] all the time, every year, coaching — it was just a dream come true.”
Four days after meeting with Calipari, Baker committed to Kentucky. He saw no need to wait.
“Iâ€™m not a person that has to wait and make it a big deal or anything like that. Once I heard what Coach Cal had to say, it was everything that I wanted to hear. As a player, you worked hard to get this opportunity and Iâ€™m glad it came.”
Now at Kentucky, BakerÂ — whose first name is pronounced “Jamal” (he’s still not sure why his grandmother put an “r” in it) –Â is hard at work once again. Over two months of workouts, he put on eight pounds of muscle. He’s billed as a shooter, but he wants Kentucky fans to know he hustles on the defensive end as well.
“Definitely defending,” Baker said of what else he brings to the table. “I always pride myself on not letting anyone score on me, no matter who it is. I’m a playmaker, I have a high IQ. Iâ€™m just ready to start playing.”
After all of their sacrifices and hard work, what does Baker’s dad say to him now?
“We talk multiple times a day. Heâ€™s just proud of everything Iâ€™ve been through. Just him working me out and for me to be able to get here and all the NBA players that have been here and been in the same position that I am, it’s just everything I can ask for.”
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