Jemarl Baker will be going from the Inland Empire to a mecca of college basketball
Jemarl Baker of Eastvale Roosevelt is headed to Kentucky to play basketball. (Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)
In an official recruiting visit to the University of Kentucky, standout point guard Jemarl Baker from Eastvale Roosevelt was treated to dinner at Tony’s of Lexington, where steaks go for $65. They love basketball in Kentucky, and whatever it takes to impress a recruit from Southern California, the Wildcats know what to do.
Baker ordered a steak with lobster tail on the side.
“It was delicious,” he said.
Baker is going where few Southern California natives have ever gone — to play basketball at Kentucky. The last one was Derrick Jasper from Paso Robles in 2006. Before that, there was Tayshaun Prince from Compton Dominguez in 1998, Chris Mills from Fairfax in 1988 and LeRon Ellis from Santa Ana Mater Dei in 1987.
Baker had been committed for two years to California before there was a coaching change, causing him to open up his recruitment. Kentucky coach John Calipari made his pitch and Baker committed on April 11.
“I liked what Coach Calipari and his assistants had to say,” Baker said. “It’s a great opportunity to go in and get better and improve my strengths and develop my weaknesses.”
Baker helped Roosevelt win its first state championship. He attended the school for all four years, unusual in itself. He’ll be part of a Kentucky recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the nation. He’s not a McDonald’s All-American or viewed as a one-and-done player, which should create for some interesting discussion among Kentucky fans when he arrives in June.
“They don’t have anybody like me,” Baker said. “I’m a different type of player. I’m not flashy but I can score in all different types of ways.”
Baker is known for his three-point shooting touch and versatility. He was one of the best guards in Southern California for the past two years during a time where there were numerous outstanding guards.
“I’m definitely a person who’s loyal,” he said. “I didn’t leave Roosevelt when things got tough. I’m a hard worker. I’m going to get my opportunity, and I’m going to flourish.”
His father, Jemarl Sr., was an All-City guard at Manual Arts and played at Cal State Northridge. Baker lives in Menifee in Riverside County and isn’t worried about moving to Lexington for college.
“I don’t do much anyways,” he said. “I’ll be staying in the dorm, staying in the gym and hanging out with the team.”
He seems ready for the challenges ahead.
“I liked that it was a family atmosphere,” he said. “I felt comfortable. I know there’s going to be ups and downs, but I’ll get through it.”
Now, another steak, please.
Chino Hills turmoil: Chino Hills’ basketball team is about to get its third coach in three years.
Stephan Gilling was told this last week after a 30-3 season, the Huskies will be replacing him. He was a walk-on first-year coach who started the season with an endorsement from LaVar Ball, the father of the Ball brothers, but ended the year in a nasty spat with Ball.
The good news is LaMelo Ball, the last of the Ball brothers, is back for two more years. The bad news is LaVar Ball will be offering his opinions for two more years. Steve Baik, who guided Chino Hills to a 35-0 record two years ago, is not leaving Fairfax to return.
So get ready for more entertainment and more drama. It’s basketball’s version of “Survivor” to see which coach can make it through a year unscathed. Fans can’t get enough. Sports talk radio loves it. Twitter fans go crazy. And sportswriters just roll their eyes in disbelief.