NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa — Nicholas Baer is about as unflappable as they come in college basketball these days. Nothing seems to faze him.
Put him on the court in a tight, late-game situation? He’s fine. He’ll handle it.
Have him play three or four different positions in the course of a game and expect him to know what he’s doing at each one? No problem. Piece of cake.
Stand him up in front of a crowd of boosters and have him make a speech? No sweat. He can do it.
Baer has been doing a lot of the latter this summer while also preparing to continue doing the first two things next winter for the Iowa basketball team.
The former Bettendorf High School star is serving as an intern for the University of Iowa Foundation this summer, a job that involves mingling with boosters and alumni and getting them to pry open their pocketbooks.
“I’ve been enjoying it so far …’’ Baer said following a recent game in the Prime Time League at the North Liberty Community Center. “I’m just enjoying getting to meet some Iowa supporters and what all goes into fundraising for Iowa athletics.’’
Baer said in his first few weeks on the job he was asked to do a few small projects and get out and meet people at events in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and other places around the state. He was the featured attraction at a luncheon at Crow Valley Golf Club last week.
The affable 21-year-old said he doesn’t get any more nervous for speaking engagements than he does for games.
“I don’t really get nervous about either to be honest with you,’’ he said. “Maybe just a little bit before public speaking … I don’t really have a lot of nerves with either of those two. I enjoy them both.’’
When he’s not hobnobbing with donors, Baer has been doing a lot of the same things this summer as in the past few.
He’s trying to enhance and refine his skill set while trying to pack a few more pounds of muscle onto his still slender 6-foot-7 frame.
“Strength’s kind of been a common motif,’’ he said. “I feel I’m getting a lot better at that. That’s really improving.
“And also just trying to make more plays off the dribble, which I think is something we’re going to have to have more of this year. Pete (Jok) took a lot of that with him and I know there’s more opportunities for that. Other guys will step into that role, too. Just trying to get a little better off the dribble and continue to work on my shooting, and also on defense, just more on-the-ball defense.’’
Jok, who led the Big Ten in scoring last season, is the only significant loss for a Hawkeye team that went 19-15 and advanced to the second round of the NIT.
With Jok gone, Baer would seem to be the leading candidate to step into the starting lineup at a wing position.
He has seen a considerable amount of action at power forward and even center in his first two years of college competition but with two promising freshman big men arriving, he seems more likely to spend his time playing small forward and shooting guard.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery often has said Baer has the ability and basketball acumen to play any of the five positions on the floor.
“Coach just kind of throws me wherever and I just go wherever,’’ Baer said. “We do have a loaded frontcourt, that’s for sure, but I think it’s just one of those things where we’ll have to see where the game goes. I’ll play wherever. I’m comfortable at all those spots.’’
One thing that might enter into McCaffery’s thinking on how to use Baer is the fact that he was a better player last season when he wasn’t in the starting lineup. He was named the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 8.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in games in which he came off the bench. In 10 games as a starter, he averaged 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds.
He ended up being the only player in the country last season and the only Big Ten player in the past 25 years to collect 250 points, 45 3-point field goals, 45 steals and 40 blocked shots in a season.
Baer said not only does he not care whether he starts or where he plays, he pointed out that position designations don’t mean much in modern-day basketball. That’s probably more true at Iowa than in most programs.
“One thing I like about Coach McCaffery’s teaching is the freedom in the offense,’’ Baer said. “There’s not rigid rules or anything like that. He just lets you play your game and when you have that confidence about you, you can play a lot better. You don’t have to be thinking ‘Oh, I can’t do this’ or ‘I can’t do that.’ If you’re a good player, play to your strengths and you’ll be fine.’’
For now, he’s playing to some of his other strengths, including an extremely likable demeanor and exceptional communication skills, in an effort to raise a few bucks for the university.
“I’ve had a good experience so far,’’ he said, “and I think I’ll have a good experience all summer.’’