For the majority of his career with the Iowa men’s basketball program, Michael Baer held the distinction of being the scout team’s tallest player.
That meant it was Baer’s job each practice to take on Iowa’s starting center, which was 6-foot-11 Luka Garza, the consensus national player of the year this past season.
Far from an easy task — but one that Baer, who committed last week to transfer to play for head coach Carmen Maciariello’s Siena men’s basketball program, enjoyed taking on each workout.
“Not only was Luka the best player in the country, he was probably the hardest-working player in the country,” Baer said in an interview with The Daily Gazette. “He never took a play off, so that made me do the same thing. It was a great experience. Not every guy gets to go up against the best player in the country every single day.”
A 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward, Baer was a walk-on at Iowa the last three seasons after starting his tenure with head coach Fran McCaffery’s Big Ten Conference program as a student-manager. In three seasons competing for the team he grew up rooting for as a kid growing up in Bettendorf, Iowa, Baer saw limited action. He logged 46 minutes in 20 games, and registered 10 points and 11 rebounds.
At Siena, as a scholarship player, Baer wants to show he’s capable of a lot more than that. With undergraduate degrees earned in business management and economics, Baer entered earlier this spring into the NCAA transfer portal as a graduate transfer in an attempt to find a school willing to give him a scholarship and a chance to earn minutes, and the connection between McCaffery and Maciariello helped make Siena that place.
“Coach McCaffery couldn’t have been more excited for me,” Baer said of the former Saints coach who led Siena to three trips to the NCAA tournament. “I knew I could rely on his advice.”
Baer is excited, too, and wants to show he can be an on-court contributor at the Division I level. He’s grown three inches and gained close to 50 pounds since he graduated from high school, and tried to take as much as he could from his experience matching up with Garza to improve his own game.
“I definitely have a lot of basketball left in me and a lot of room to grow, so this was always the plan — to keep playing,” Baer said. “I wanted to find a place where I could find a little more opportunity to get on the floor and impact winning that way, but it was also important to me that the team is at the top of their conference.”
Siena won the 2020 MAAC regular-season championship and appeared headed to the NCAA tournament before that year’s event was canceled because of concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The Saints won a share of the 2021 regular-season MAAC crown before falling in the quarterfinals of the MAAC tournament.
Siena, like so many programs, has experienced significant roster turnover during this offseason that saw a new policy adopted that all players are able to transfer once without needing to sit out. At present, Baer is one of eight incoming players for the Saints, while the program has lost six scholarship players this offseason either to graduation or transfer, including the team’s top three scorers from last season.
Baer said he heard from several schools after heading into the NCAA transfer portal. It took only a few days, though, after first making contact with Maciariello for Baer to decide to join the Saints.
“Once Siena offered me,” Baer said, “I couldn’t see how any other situation could be better than that.”