The walk-on from Bettendorf scored a career high 19 points vs. Tennessee Tech. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
Fran McCaffery did the right thing Thursday, assigning top basketball reserve Nicholas Baer a new status: “Former walk-on.”
Baer’s inspiring, impressive bench play as a redshirt freshman in the Hawkeyes’ recently-completed 22-11 season was rewarded with a full athletic scholarship from the Iowa coach.
“When we invited Nicholas to walk-on two years ago, I had a strong suspicion that this day would come,” McCaffery said. “I didn’t give him a scholarship; he earned one. And that’s the greatest compliment that you can give to him.”
Baer might’ve gotten this news sooner, considering he broke into Iowa’s rotation early in the nonconference season. But McCaffery didn’t have any scholarships available until freshmen Brandon Hutton and Andrew Fleming announced their intention to transfer last week.
McCaffery could’ve held on to those two suddenly-free scholarships to see what happened in the transfer market. Baer, a 6-foot-7 Bettendorf native, wasn’t going anywhere even if he didn’t have a scholarship — he always wanted to be a Hawkeye, scholarship or not.
But McCaffery has always been a fierce advocate for his players, so doing right by Baer — and any future walk-on stories like this — was the unsurprising and proper course of action. Baer will be a big part in McCaffery's plans over the next three seasons.
“I am so thankful that Coach McCaffery gave me the opportunity to walk-on; he gave me a jersey, gave me a chance to prove myself,” Baer said in a statement. “It has always been a goal of mine to achieve a scholarship, and I’m thankful that I have achieved that goal. But more so I’m thankful for all of my teammates who have pushed me to make me a better player and the support I’ve received from Hawkeye fans.”
Baer’s breakthrough performance came against Drake in the Big Four Classic. With star forward Jarrod Uthoff saddled with early foul trouble at Wells Fargo Arena, Baer excelled off the bench with 13 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots. He played 30 key minutes in that 70-64 win, and he continued to be a factor in the Hawkeyes’ fortunes the rest of the way.
He was arguably Iowa’s best player in its final game, scoring 15 points with four rebounds in an NCAA Tournament second-round loss to Villanova.
McCaffery still has one scholarship at his disposal for the 2016-17 season. Ideally, Iowa could use a ready-to-roll graduate-transfer point guard.