On Wednesday morning, elite Austin Westlake center Will Baker put pen to paper and officially inked his future with the Texas Longhorns, becoming the latest five-star big man to sign in favor of Shaka Smart’s program throughout his four classes on the Forty Acres.
“Will possesses outstanding offensive talent, including the ability to score around the basket and on the perimeter,” Smart said in a statement per the school. “He’s as good a shooter at his size as I’ve seen at the high school level. He will be an excellent fit with how we utilize and develop our versatile bigs.”
At this point last week, it wasn’t entirely clear if Texas adding this cornerstone signature would come to fruition. Though considered the frontrunner, Texas was tasked with fending off UCLA, which hosted Baker for numerous visits, including an official tour on June 28. However, Texas, which became the very first to offer Baker in January 2017, got the first and last laugh, and ultimately, his pledge after hosting the five-star center on seemingly countless occasions, including an official visit on Aug. 31 and another trip for the Texas Tip-Off in October.
Just weeks removed from that preseason tour, Baker announced that he was keeping his talents at home and committing to Texas.
“With great consideration, I will be committing to the University of Texas,” Baker announced in his commitment video.
Now officially a Longhorn, Baker, as noted, becomes the latest addition to a growing list of elite big men to take their talent to Texas and sign with Smart. In 2016, Texas added fellow Austin native Jarrett Allen, and the 2017 class sign Harlem (N.Y.) product and the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect, Mohamed Bamba, selected the Longhorns over the likes of Kentucky, Duke, and Michigan. After missing on a five-star interior talent last cycle, which still saw Texas add Team USA representative Kamaka Hepa, yet another five-star is headed for the Forty Acres following his senior season in Baker, the nation’s No. 20 overall prospect and No. 7 center.
As noted upon his commitment to Texas, Baker brings a tremendously versatile skill set to the table, ideally fitting the mold of a modern-day big man.
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.
While it’s quite clear that Baker is worthy of playing time and plenty of it as a true freshman, the exact role he’ll fill won’t begin to take form until Baker steps foot on the Forty Acres.
On the surface, Baker will help fill the void left behind from senior power forward Dylan Osetkowski, though he’ll have to contend with the aforementioned Hepa in fighting for the starting role. Baker will almost certainly see time at center as well, though minutes to that end may be limited if Texas returns a junior Jericho Sims and a sophomore Jaxson Hayes, whose skill sets, unlike Baker, currently limit them to the paint. Not to mention, Royce Hamm, who’s working his way back from an MCL injury, is still aiming to carve out a role in the front court after taking home the Texas Tip-Off slam dunk title just weeks ago.
In short, Smart will be tasked with incorporating Baker into noteworthy collection of interior talent, but nevertheless, finding a way to fit a five-star talent into the rotation is a good problem to have.