Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina

Joey Baker Gets Game Look at UNC

Saturday's win over N.C. State was Joey Baker's first game visit to the Smith Center.

Joey Baker has been to the Smith Center plenty of times.

He's trained in it with former AAU teammates Sacha Killeya-Jones and 2017 UNC signee Jalek Felton. He attended Late Night with Roy in both 2015 and 2016. He's met with the UNC coaching staff and toured the player's locker rooms and visited the Carolina Basketball museum.

His visit for the Tar Heels' record-setting win over N.C. State on Sunday, however, was different. It was Baker's first regular-season game at Carolina.

"I was excited to get up there," said Baker. "I thought it was going to be a pretty decent game, but I guess not. I was just trying to see and get a feel for the coaches... see their styles when a player makes a mistake or when they do something good. The atmosphere was crazy and it was a rivalry game, so the fans were pumped. Despite the score, down to the last minute, they were wild. I was watching mostly Justin Jackson on UNC's team. I feel like, if I were to play at UNC, I'd be something along those lines - I'd be that type of player. He was in a nice groove."

Baker, the second-highest ranked player in North Carolina regardless of class, has drawn interest from the Tar Heels since last summer. Despite being only a sophomore, Baker played with Team Felton's 17U squad, alongside Felton, on the Under Armour circuit. He's one of the few sophomores in the country who played 17U last year. He holds offers from Clemson, Tennessee, Texas, Boston College, Florida, Providence, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Baker is also receiving interest from Duke, Virginia, Georgetown and Syracuse.

Assistant coach C.B. McGrath is Baker's lead recruiter for UNC.

"(After the game) we went in the locker room and talked with the coaching staff, nothing too serious though," explained Baker. "I have a good relationship with C.B. (McGrath). We haven't been speaking lot because we're both busy with our respective season, but I think we have a pretty good relationship. We understand each other."

North Carolina is still sorting through prospects in the class of 2019 - it's offered Wendell Moore, Matt Hurt and Josh Nickelberry - especially on the wing. In addition to Baker and Moore, South Carolina natives Juwan Gary and Christian Brown are sophomore wings on the Tar Heels' radar.

"I see myself on the wing as a "3" in college, that's able to play a '2' or a '4' based on whatever matchups the game needs," said the 6-7, 193-pound Baker. "I've been more in the stretch '4' role this season. I played some '3' and at times, depending on foul trouble, I've played some '5' as well. It really just depends on what is needed in that specific game."

Roy Williams got an in-person look at Baker's versatility last week, when he saw Fayetteville (N.C.) Trinity Christian, Baker and Nickelberry take a 73-70 loss against Wilson (N.C.) Greenfield and 2018 UNC commitment Coby White. Baker finished with 18 points.

"Physically, I've gotten bigger and stronger and faster. I'm more comfortable handling and making plays with the ball in hand," explained Baker. "I think I showed that the other night. I've been playing pretty good. I've been trying to affect the game in as many ways as possible - scoring, rebounding, blocking shots, defending, whatever. I'm never satisfied with how I've been playing, but I'm also not disappointed."

The morning after Trinity's loss, Williams offered Nickelberry a scholarship.

"We're really close," Baker said. "We go to school together and we have every class together except one, I think. And then at practice we talk to each other and critique each other and try to make each other better. I was really happy for him (when he received the offer). It's something he should be proud of."


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