LEXINGTON, Ky. — Jemarl Baker and Quade Green had a friendly back-and-forth Thursday afternoon, but Baker made sure to get the last word.
Green, a 38-percent shooter from 3-point range last season, didn’t provide a clear answer when asked who the team’s best shooter is. When Baker heard that, his answer was anything but unclear.
“I don’t know why he wouldn’t comment on that,” Baker said. “It’s me.”
But for now that’s only talk. Baker tore his left meniscus in his high school state championship game, had surgery on it last preseason and missed all of last season as he rehabbed.
During the NCAA Tournament, Baker said he was 80 percent healthy. On Thursday he upgraded his status to 100 percent.
“I feel great. Better than ever,” Baker said with a smile.
“It was definitely tough to get it back. It was something I hadn’t ever been through before, but I enjoyed the process. I just got to look at basketball in a different perspective. Now I’m just ready to go.”
Baker’s knee is healthy, but his conditioning isn’t where he wants it to be.
The 6-foot-4 guard will compete this offseason in a back court that includes Green, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro and possibly Ashton Hagans, depending on whether the 2019 guard reclassifies. Keldon Johnson could be slotted at shooting guard in addition to small forward.
Baker, a 4-star prospect from Menifee, Calif., was the 73rd-ranked player in the 2017 class. Green, Quickley, Herro, Hagans and Johnson were all top-40 players in high school.
But the combination of sitting out a season and knowing that another batch of 5-star recruits were on their way to Lexington didn’t dissuade Baker from staying.
“Transferring was never an option for me,” he said. “It was never a thought for me. I never talked to Cal [John Calipari] about anything like that and I never felt like I had to. I committed here, I wanted to be here and transferring was never an option for me.”
He expected to fight for playing time.
“You come to Kentucky, you know you’re gonna have to compete,” Baker said. “There’s guys coming in every year. It’s not a big deal to me.”
During his yearlong absence, Baker had a firsthand look at the intensity required in practice. He had a front-row seat during Kentucky’s championship run in the SEC Tournament and its Sweet 16 exit in the NCAA Tournament.
Baker said he feels like a new player and a veteran at the same time. He’s been around, but nobody has seen him play. And that’s what makes him Kentucky’s “mystery man,” as one reporter put it Thursday.
“Well, yeah, I am,” he said. “I’m a mystery man to the coaches, too.”
And when his game is finally unveiled, what will people see?
“That I’m a really good player,” Baker said, “and I’m just ready to go out there and show it.”