After key performance, scholarship not far behind for Iowa's Baer

Chris Cuellar

Nicholas Baer is shooting, swatting and hustling his way to a scholarship.

Iowa's Nicholas Baer knocks the ball away from Drake's Kale Abrahamson on Saturday, December 19, 2015, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery doesn’t know how or when he’ll award the redshirt freshman from Bettendorf with a scholarship. But after Baer’s 13 points, seven rebounds and six blocks in Saturday’s 70-64 win over Drake, it’s only a matter of time.

The walk-on forward stole the afternoon show at the Big Four Classic inside Wells Fargo Arena with an eye-catching performance off the bench.

“I am not surprised at all,” McCaffery said after the win. “When I first saw him play, I was kind of shocked that he didn’t have much recruiting activity.

“Obviously, we’re going to have to give him a scholarship at some point. That’s safe to say.”

Gesell's final dunk helps Iowa flush adversity, beat Drake

After Baer made a rare appearance to the postgame podium, McCaffery praised the second-year player for important contributions during the surprisingly difficult in-state matchup.

Averaging less than 13 minutes per game with about three points and three rebounds, Baer produced a gem in a career-high 30 minutes. The slender 6-foot-7 wing was 5-of-10 from the field, 3-of-5 from 3-point range, got three of his seven rebounds on the offensive end — adding countless tips and loose-ball scrambles — along with six thudding blocked shots and a pair of assists.

“It’s great to be big and strong, and you say to play in the Big Ten you’ve got to be big and strong, but you’ve got to have game,” McCaffery said.

“What he’s got, he’s got a game. He can play in-and-out, he can play fast, he can play half-court.

“He’s just going to keep getting better. He’s got unbelievable character and a great mind for this game.”

Baer was deferential to his teammates after the win.

“I’m just excited to be here and just to get a chance to play here,” Baer said.

“I always wanted to come to Iowa, and coach McCaffery gave me an opportunity to walk on. I always envisioned myself as a player, not just as a practice player, and when you come here, you want to have a chance to compete on the floor.”

Jarrod Uthoff’s foul trouble, Adam Woodbury’s confinement to the bench and Drake’s commitment to small, deep-shooting lineups gave him a unique opportunity on the same court where he played as a Bettendorf prep. Still, he’s come a long way in a short time in Iowa City.

“The only thing he asked for is that he wanted to redshirt his first year,” McCaffery said. “He said, ‘Coach, I’m not ready physically.’ As the season went on, he was so good in practice, I remember saying, ‘Boy, I wish we didn’t redshirt him. Because he’d be playing.’”

Baer made an immediate impact with a pair of early dunks, including a fast-break throw-down that gave the Hawkeyes (8-3) their first lead at 15-14. McCaffery played him the second-most minutes on Saturday, behind only Mike Gesell’s 34.

“Mike did a really nice job driving the ball (Saturday),” Baer said. “Our seniors really led the way home for us.

“I’m not too worried about stats. I’m just trying to make plays.”

Iowa’s coaching staff has seen Baer shine as a scout-team player in practice, but his contributions Saturday in front of more than 15,000 fans bodes well for Big Ten play. His teammates feel like he’s been ready to help for a while.

“When we were playing last year at Michigan, we were going over all their plays and scouting and Baer was just unbelievable,” Iowa senior guard Anthony Clemmons said.

“He had one of the best practices anybody probably had all year, just in the run-through. He plays with a lot of energy, so you have to give him that credit, and he competes. You can ride with him.”

It’s effort on both ends of the court that could make him a scholarship player, probably sooner than later.

“He’s just a guy that’s going to go out there and give you his all,” Gesell said.

“The reason he got six blocks is because he was in the right positions and that’s what you need. He just does a tremendous job of playing the right way.”