Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Men’s Basketball: Baran takes a larger role for Wildcats

The last two years of Nikola Baran’s life have been hard. But not just because he plays for a Big Ten basketball program or attends Northwestern.

He’s been separated from his family by 4,700 miles, which includes his 16-year-old brother and sister, who are both confined to wheelchairs.

“I’ve become so close to them,” Baran said. “My whole life, I’ve helped them.”

But Baran made a choice to go to school in America after being recruited and visited by NU coach Bill Carmody, who made a trip to Baran’s hometown of Zagreb, Croatia in July 2005.

Since committing to play for the Wildcats, Baran redshirted last season. This season, he has managed to crack the starting rotation, starting 14 of NU’s 18 games while playing an average of 14.3 minutes per game – and practicing his English along the way.

“It was nice having players like Ivan Tolic last year,” Baran said. “When I didn’t understand things about the offense or terms with the way my English was when I got here, he could help me out.”

The Cats have been utilizing Baran’s 6-8, 235-pound body to fill the place vacated by the graduation of 6-11 center Vince Scott last season. And it’s a role Baran has filled nicely.

“He’s a little more versatile than Vince was last year,” sophomore forward Kevin Coble said. “He can step out and shoot, and he’s also quick and a good passer, which I think is something people don’t give him enough credit for.”

Baran is averaging 3.4 points and 1.3 rebounds per game as well as giving the Cats another perimeter shooter to help draw big men out from the low post on offense.

“He’s a natural for that position,” Carmody said. “The way we play in our offense, the center has to go out high a lot.”

Although Baran has found a role in Carmody’s offense, he is still trying to work on his low-post game.

In the past few games Baran has posted up against taller opponents and attempted his newfound hook shot, with varying degrees of success.

“He’s only 6-8,” Carmody said. “You face a lot of good centers in this conference, so he has to figure out how to get his shot off without getting it blocked. If you aren’t being bothered, then now is the time to take your hook shot. That’s one of the harder things that a young guy in the post has to learn.”

Taking shots has been one of Baran’s weaknesses. At times this season, he looks to pass even when there are good looks for his shots, especially Sunday at Illinois.

Coble and Carmody said the biggest problem for Baran is confidence and when he has that, he can really change the game for the team. For that to happen, he needs to shake off the tentativeness and feel comfortable in his abilities.

“(Against Texas-Pan American) he hit what I thought was the biggest shot of the game for us,” Carmody said. “We were down seven points with five seconds (in the half) and we ran a play specifically for him, and he shot a 3 and banged it.”

Now that he has gained some of Carmody’s confidence, perhaps Baran will exude it Sunday at No. 11 Indiana. He will have to face forward D.J. White, who was just named as one of 30 candidates for the 2008 Naismith Trophy.

“Nik can get a lot better,” Carmody said. “I want him to get a lot better. He’s got a great shot, but we just need him to get more comfortable, but I’m confident he’ll continue to work hard and get better.”

Reach Brian Regan at [email protected].

——Photobucket

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Men’s Basketball: Baran takes a larger role for Wildcats