I was in Brooklyn for the 21-point debacle/tragedy/cataclysm/loss that came at the hands of the eventual National Champion, Villanova Wildcats. Before I had my heart ripped out of my chest and then Whipped and Nae Nae-d on by some of the family I attended the game with, I was feeling myself some Hawkeyes. I believed — God, did I believe — that Iowa’s Senior Core Four and Peter Jok weren’t ready to let one hell of a magical season (despite the late melt down) end without a trip to the Sweet 16 — which would have been for the first time since 1999.
I believed that Jarrod Uthoff was going to be able to pull out one more “Iowa State Game” while also taking away any clean looks for Kris “Big Smooth” Jenkins. I believed that Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons were going to lock down Ryan Arcidiacono. I believed that Adam Woodbury and Daniel Ochefu would take each other out of both offenses by just standing in front of the other (which would wind up being a net positive for McCaffery and the Hawkeyes because “Woodbury” and “offense” wen’t together like lamb and tunafish). I believed that Peter Jok would be able to handle himself accordingly against Josh Hart by at least trading blows with him so their offensive output was about even at the end of the game.
The takeaway? Don’t believe me when I say believe me.
Big Smooth (15) and Arci (16) and Josh Hart (19) combined for 50 of Villanova’s 87 points. Skeletor (16) and P3T3R Jok (11) and Mikey (6) combined for 33 of the Iowa’s 68. Even when you add in a fourth hombre in Anthony Clemmons, the group only scored 42 total points together.
Oh, and lest we forget, that big man wipeout I was predicting? Yeah, well, Ochefu finished the night with six points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals, three blocks and only one foul. On the other side of the ball, Woody scored one point, grabbed three rebounds and committed four fouls. After finally coming to grips with what actually happened — and I mean it when I say this — Woodbury could’ve put a life sized cardboard cut out of himself on the floor for the entire game and he STILL would’ve ended up with the same output as he did that cold, cold Brooklyn afternoon.
Now, after 400 more words on the matter, I’m finally (FINALLY) ready to put that Iowa loss and all of the disappointments and frustrations aside. I’m ready to look at the positive.
And yes, I meant for that last word to remain singular.
I’m ready to talk about Nicholas Baer.
Baer unfortunately almost seems like the forgotten Iowa returner going into the 2016-17 season and I’m beginning to think that’s a huge mistake. Obviously, Jok is and will continue to be talked about the most (and deservedly so). He has a real chance at becoming one of the ten best players in the NCAA this season if everything breaks right. But after that, those who are writing anything about Iowa basketball right now — myself included — are focusing most of their extra attention on the likes of Tyler Cook, Ahmad Wagner, Christian Williams and Dom Uhl.
And we’ve left Baer in the corner.
Nobody should be leaving Baer in the corner.
I wont ask you to think all the way back to the Tennessee Tech game, but do you remember how good Baer looked against Villanova? Do you remember how he was the only one that was able to make any sort of play that resembled actual basketball? Do you remember this:
Baer didn’t look like a freshman during that game. Baer didn’t look like a walk-on in that game. Bear looked liked he belonged on that floor, flying around and making plays against what turned out to be the best team in the nation.
The best “Iowa” moment from that game was when I was asked multiple times in my predominately crazed Villanova section, “Who is THAT kid?”.
THAT kid was the only one that showed up in that Villanova game and didn’t let the moment or the opposing teams talent get in his head. He scored eight straight points when Iowa had nothing going offensively in the first half and ended up taking more shots than any other player on the team — and that’s including Uthoff who basically played hot potato for the entire second half.
THAT kid was a walk-on freshman.
THAT kid wound up playing in every single game last season and finished second in the team in blocked shots at that.
THAT kid is now a scholarship athlete.
THAT kid was taken as the second pick in the Prime Time League (which actually kind of matters in a weird, totally Iowan-fan way). He finished the summer fifth in total scoring (21.5) and first in rebounds (12.17).
THAT kid just got done playing with the East Coast All-Stars in Italy where he was (by all accounts) the most consistent kid on the team, averaging 8.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals in four games against European opponents. He now joins Matt Gatens, Bryce Cartwright, Zach McCabe, Uthoff, Gesell, Woodbury and Uhl as members of the Iowa squad that have made the trip.
THAT kid — with a little more added weight — will be/is Iowa’s most versatile and important all encompassing piece, as he has the IQ, heart, tenacity and ability to play any position on the court.
THAT kid has the full support of McCaffery and his coaching staff:
“In my mind, with Nicholas, he’s done nothing to surprise me at all,’’ McCaffery said. “Sometimes the recruiting process doesn’t work the way it should. He didn’t get the attention he should have. We offered him an opportunity. He took full advantage of it, he earned a scholarship and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s an integral part of everything that we’re doing moving forward.’’
THAT kid did this against Michigan State:
THAT kid also did this against Purdue:
THAT kid is ready to take the next step in his basketball career and put the starting lineup, the second unit, the point guard/shooting guard/small forward/power forward/center positions and whatever else the coaching staff asks him to do on his back.
THAT kid is ready to be the best Iowa walk-on of all time.
There’s only one question that remains...
...ARE YOU READY?