BOISE, Idaho — Kentucky freshman shooting guard Jemarl Baker spoke publicly Wednesday at the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the preseason. Baker has been sidelined the whole season after having surgery on the meniscus in his left knee in the preseason.
He’s redshirting this season, but Baker said he’s never had thoughts about not coming back to Kentucky next season.
“No, definitely not,” Baker said. “I’m a really positive person. All the things I’ve been through — the surgery and everything like that — that never came to mind. I’m always gonna work hard and try to be better.”
He said he’s always been a positive person, even this season when he couldn’t play.
“I’ve actually enjoyed it,” Baker said. It’s definitely been hard, not being able to play and things like that. It’s something that I haven’t ever done. Just looking at basketball from another perspective. Trying to learn everything I can, just see how Cal wants us to play, what he expects from us.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari hadn’t updated Baker’s status since Jan. 20 when he said Baker “wasn’t close.”
Baker, who’s going through rehab but still not practicing, offered an update on his status Wednesday.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Baker said. “My knee is good and now I’m just at the point where we’re trying to get the strength back to 100 percent — as strong as the right leg. I’m at probably about 80 percent right now. Just been shooting and working out, but I haven’t started practicing.
The Menifee, Calif., native was the 15th-ranked shooting guard and the 73rd-ranked prospect in the 2017 class, according to the 247Sports composite. Baker, known for his 3-point shooting, signed with Kentucky after de-committing from California.
The Wildcats struggled from 3-point range for much of the regular season. Baker knew he could help had he been healthy.
“That’s what I do,” Baker said of shooting threes. “Of course I wanted to help. Just trying to get healthy and I’m just cheering them on, motivating them or whatever I can do.”
Fellow freshmen PJ Washington and Hamidou Diallo said Baker has stayed positive despite his energy. Washington said Baker plays a lot of video games.
“We’re all together all the time,” Baker said. “It hasn’t been anything where I’ve been outside, out a certain clique or anything like that. We’re all together.”
No. 5 seed Kentucky opens NCAA Tournament play against No. 12 seed Davidson at 7:10 p.m. ET in Boise, Idaho.
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