Once again, Shaka Smart has landed a pledge from an elite big man prospect, as five-star Austin Westlake center Will Baker announced his commitment to the Texas Longhorns over the UCLA Bruins on Thursday during a commitment ceremony at his school.
Stanford and Georgetown were each named as top teams as well in late August, but Baker’s recruitment was almost entirely considered to be a two-horse race between the Bruins and the hometown Longhorns, the two finalists he announced this week.
Although luring an elite talent out of Smart’s backyard was expected to be a tall task, UCLA made its interest clear early and often, and Baker entertained and reciprocated that interest in the form of numerous visits, including one on an official basis on June 28.
However, Texas, too, made Baker a priority and did so over a bit longer period of time, as the five-star center’s first reported offer stemmed from Texas in January of 2017. Throughout much of the past two years, Baker toured Texas on seemingly countless occasions, including an official visit on Aug. 31.
In October, Baker was in attendance at the Texas Tip-Off, where sophomore guard Matt Coleman made it clear just how much he wants to play with the five-star center by holding up a sign that said “We want Will #Bakeshow.”
“I just hope the message got through that he knows we want Will Baker and I’d love to play with a guy like Will Baker,” Coleman said after the event.
Clearly, the message was received and the interest reciprocated.
A little less than a month removed from that visit, Baker is now the latest elite big man to commit to the Longhorns, joining recent names such as fellow Austin native Jarrett Allen and Mohamed Bamba; each of which went on to become one-and-done first-round NBA Draft selections.
Baker’s tremendous skill set suggests that he could soon be following in those same shoes.
At 7’0 and 235 pounds, Baker boasts notable size — he would be the biggest player on the current Texas roster — but size aside, Baker fits the mold of a modern-day big man. The most obvious example of this is his shooting touch out to the perimeter, which he put on full display last spring, shooting 71.4 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from deep throughout the Under Armour Challenge en route to 13.7 points per game on a loaded Texas Hardwork roster. Furthermore, he flashes especially impressive ball-handling ability and the ability to facilitate in transition, which at times will resemble former Longhorn Conner Lammert, though Baker has more athletic upside.
When Baker does set up shop in the paint, he displays a grasp of how to utilize his size to create scoring opportunities and to that end, he has a nice touch around the rim, although post play isn’t Baker’s bread and butter at this point in his progression.
Texas opened the 2019 cycle with Baker at the very top of its big board and on Thursday, those extensive efforts finally paid dividends. With Baker now on board, Smart’s 2019 class is up to three members, as he joins four-star Missouri City Elkins shooting guard Donovan Williams and four-star Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster Academy power forward Kai Jones.
The headliner of the class, Baker is ranked as the nation’s No. 20 player, No. 7 center, and as the No. 2 player in Texas, per the 247Sports Composite.