Jemarl Baker

Former Kentucky guard Jemarl Baker announced on Twitter he will transfer to Arizona after visiting Tucson over the weekend.

Baker, who played in 28 of 37 games for Kentucky last season for Kentucky last season after sitting out 2017-18 with a knee injury, will sit out next season as a redshirt transfer but add shooting and defense starting in 2020-21.

Having played in the same club ball program as Nico Mannion and Josh Green -- and on West Coast Elite club team that also featured UA forward Ira Lee -- Baker chose UA over programs such as ASU, San Diego State, Fresno State, Marquette and St. Mary's.

Ryan Silver, director of the West Coast Elite Club that Baker played for, said Baker and Lee helped lead their U17 club (then known as Earl Watson Elite) to an 11-1 record in Under Armour play in 2016.

"Wonderful kid, high character kid. No bs," said Ryan Silver, director of the West Coast Elite club Baker played for. "He's 6-4 combo guard who can really knock down shots and has a high release; very good defensively."

West Coast Elite now has five alums on the Arizona roster: Mannion, Green, Lee, Baker and Gettings.

As a four-star recruit out of the Riverside, Calif., area in 2017, Baker initially signed with Cal but was let out of his letter-of-intent when Cuonzo Martin left for Missouri and went instead to Kentucky.

Baker sat out the 2017-18 season with a knee injury and then averaged 2.3 points over 9.1 minutes as a redshirt freshman last season. He played well defensively against Wofford in the NCAA Tournament, but his role might have been limited at Kentucky next season, too.

Already loaded with five-star wings and rising sophomore point guards Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans, Kentucky also brings in five-star combo guard Tyrese Maxey next season. Still, Kentucky coach John Calipari spoke highly of Baker in a UK release upon Baker's departure.

"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," Calipari said. "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."

Baker was also a strong student at Kentucky, making the SEC's first-year all-academic honor roll.

Upon announcing his decision to leave in mid-April, Baker expressed thanks to his teammates, coaches and fans, whom he called the best in the country.

"However, 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 life-long 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."

The San Diego Union-Tribune said Baker's commitment came as a surprise considering UA could face NCAA penalties when he becomes eligible in 2020-21, though Baker could be free to play elsewhere if that happens.

Arizona will have to make room for Baker if he is to take up a scholarship spot during his redshirt season. The Wildcats are now one over the 13-player scholarship limit, and will be two over if Brandon Randolph makes an unexpected return to Arizona.

A look at UA's tentative 2019-20 roster as of now (assuming Randolph stays in the pros permanently):

1. Dylan Smith G Sr.

2. Stone Gettings F Sr.

3. Chase Jeter C Sr.

4. Max Hazzard G Sr.

5. Ira Lee G Jr.

6. Alex Barcello G Jr.

7. Devonaire Doutrive G So.

8. Brandon Williams G So.

9. Jemarl Baker G So. * 

10. Terry Armstrong F Fr.

11. Nico Mannion G Fr.

12. Josh Green G Fr.

13. Christian Koloko C Fr.

14. Zeke Nnaji F Fr.

* Will sit out 2019-20 as a redshirt transfer.

Contact sports reporter Bruce Pascoe at 573-4146 or bpascoe@tucson.com. On Twitter @brucepascoe

Reporter

Bruce is a veteran Star sports reporter who has also worked at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He graduated from Northwestern University and has an MBA from Thunderbird.