Teammates say Nicholas Baer is doing all the right things to play Division I basketball.
More validation came Monday, when the Iowa walk-on was named the Big Ten Conference’s freshman of the week.
Baer put on the most dazzling performance of his young career Saturday, recording 13 points, seven rebounds and six of Iowa’s school-record 14 blocked shots in a 70-64 win over Drake.
The 6-foot-7 Bettendorf product played a career-high 30 minutes with Iowa star forward Jarrod Uthoff in foul trouble. Uthoff had seen this coming ever since he got an early window into Baer's game.
“He’s the ultimate hustle guy. He’s always bringing energy and being everywhere,” Uthoff said. “We joke around, our first pickup game he was at, he was diving on loose balls. And we were all looking at him like he was crazy. But that’s Baer for you.
“He knocks down open shots. He doesn’t try to do too much. I like the way he plays.”
Baer is the first Hawkeye freshman since current senior Mike Gesell in 2012 to win the Big Ten’s weekly honor. He hit 5-of-10 shots, including two 3-pointers, as a wing player. That's a departure from his under-the-basket role as a high school center. He redshirted last year to get stronger and work with assistant coach Kirk Speraw on his game.
“Coach Speraw is our shot doctor. I didn’t need major surgery, but he gave me a few tweaks,” said Baer, firmly in Fran McCaffery’s nine-man rotation now. “Just get more arch on my shot. Any shooter will tell you, that when you pass as well as my passers did today, it’s a lot easier to shoot the ball.”
After Saturday’s game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, McCaffery said he “obviously” would need to get Baer on scholarship at some point. Asked Monday morning about when that might happen, McCaffery wasn’t sure.
“No,” he said in a conference call to preview Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. game against Tennessee Tech, “other than, I’d like it to be sooner than later.”
Iowa has signed four players in the 2016 recruiting class to replace outgoing seniors Uthoff, Gesell, Adam Woodbury and Anthony Clemmons – so there is nothing available short-term unless someone else on scholarship leaves the program.