NORTH LIBERTY – From the first time I saw him play basketball in person, what stands out the most about Nicholas Baer is his demeanor.
He just acts as if he belongs at the Big Ten level.
He isn’t arrogant, but instead has a cool confidence about him.
You see it in the way he talks, but mostly in the way he plays.
Baer isn’t your typical walk-on for the Iowa basketball team.
That became apparent last season when Iowa coach Fran McCaffery would praise the 6-foot-7 Baer for his performances in practice.
Now there is talk that Baer, a native of Bettendorf, might crack the rotation as a redshirt freshman.
“I’m just trying to improve myself as much as I can for this team and for myself individually,” Baer said after playing in the Prime Time League on Thursday. “And most of that comes with gaining strength and also developing my skills.
“So whatever way I can help the team and help coach McCaffery, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Baer is among 14 current and future Iowa players who are competing in the Prime Time League this summer.
He made his PTL debut last summer and I still remember his first game. I remember Baer missing several shots, but he didn’t let it bother him, at least on the surface.
He kept shooting as if he knew that eventually the shots would drop, which they did. He also showed a variety of nifty post moves in his PTL debut last summer that surfaced again on Thursday. There was one play on Thursday in which Baer faked to his right before spinning back to his left and making a one-handed shot.
He also made one 3-point shot and was 2-for-2 in free throw attempts while scoring nine points.
A reporter suggested to Baer on Thursday that one of his spinning post moves was reminiscent of former Wisconsin all-America center Frank Kaminsky.
“I guess that’s not really all that new, I’ve been doing that since high school,” Baer said with confidence. “I wouldn’t compare myself to Frank Kaminsky by any means.
“But I’ve always kind of had that spin move. It’s just always kind of been something that I’ve gone to and been successful for me.”
His ability to score is why I give Baer a chance to contribute this coming season as Iowa moves on without all-Big Ten power forward Aaron White and center Gabe Olaseni, both of whom used up their eligibility last season. The Hawkeyes are loaded with size, depth and experience, but they need more dependable shooters. They need somebody else on the frontline that defenses will have to respect in order to create better floor spacing.
“I think I can compete for some of those minutes in there,” Baer said. “I have to add some strength. There are a lot of freshmen guys, too. We’re going to try and help out and that could be productive for us as well.”
Baer is quick by power forward standards, but also small in stature, barely weighing 200 pounds. He’s big for a small forward, but lacks some quickness for that position.
“I’m kind of a stretch guy in between one of those,” Baer said.
This past year was a valuable learning experience for Baer. He no longer has to deal with the transition from high school to college and he’s seen up close what it takes to excel at this level.
“I think I learned a lot just by seeing what it’s like to be a college athlete and then also learning from some of the seniors last year, Gabe Olaseni and Aaron White in particular," Baer said. "They really helped me out with how they handled themselves day to day and the leadership roles that they took to help our program.”
Combine what he has learned with his talent and Iowa might have something brewing with Baer. It’ll take some time. But with four seasons of eligibility, Baer has plenty of time, to go along with some nice post moves and a quiet confidence.