As a youngster Deb was a gymnast. While her sister was entering high school, and practicing basketball skills in the driveway with her dad to try out for the high school team, Deb decided to get involved. Deb liked the sport, and by the following year she tried out for the eighth grade team. “The next thing you know I was a freshman, and I made the varsity team and all of a sudden basketball became my number one sport, and I really enjoyed it.” At the time she wasn’t thinking about basketball at the college level or a scholarship but by her junior year there were conversations about schools recruiting her, and coaches coming to visit to watch her play. “I didn’t realize I could go this avenue (college basketball) so it was a little bit of a shock but a welcome one.” While at Red Lion High School Deb was a member of the basketball team that won a couple of county championships, and moved on to their first appearance in the state playoffs.
Deb Baer was a Guard for the UConn Huskies from 1988 – 1992. While at UConn she enjoyed a lot of firsts - the first ever Big East Tournament Championship, National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament Bid, and NCAA Final Four appearance. She was also a member of teams winning three Big East regular season titles, and two Big East Championship Tournaments. I spoke with Deb in July 2006, as she reflected on her basketball memories and career accomplishments.
Deb holds the honor of being the first College Division I basketball player from Red Lion. “It was very exciting for the school. At the time you just think okay this is real but you didn’t really know the magnitude of it.” During the college recruiting process, Deb was mainly interested in Big East Conference schools, narrowing her choices to Syracuse University, Providence College and UConn. Educationally she knew any of her choices would be fine. She really liked Syracuse but also liked Coach Auriemma. Had he been a coach at Syracuse, Deb would have chosen Syracuse. Although her parents left the decision making to her, she knew that they really liked Coach Auriemma and Associate Head Coach Chris Dailey. “I chose UConn because I felt I would be able to play for Coach Auriemma, and I liked what I thought the UConn basketball program could be. I felt that they had my best interest in mind.”
When Deb arrived at UConn she was already familiar with a few of her teammates, Wendy Davis and Meghan Pattyson from playing against them on Amateur Athletic Union teams. Their team was very young, with only four returning players from the previous year. “My first year I don’t think anyone was expecting us to do anything, and we won UConn’s first Big East Tournament Championship.” Her freshman and sophomore years they were in the NCAA Tournament but lost in the first round. During Deb’s junior year, they made it to UConn’s first ever appearance in the Final Four. “It’s after the fact that you realize what you have accomplished.”
Deb graduated from UConn with a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science and Fitness Management. For the past 13 years she has worked at Saint Joseph’s College in West Hartford, Connecticut. She started her career as a tennis coach, assistant basketball coach and fitness director. When she arrived there were no athletic programs, facilities or players. “It was kind of fun because when our first recruiting class became seniors, we won our conference championship. It was fun to see us go from nothing to something.” She was later the head basketball coach for five years. As head coach she now understood what coach Auriemma was doing. “It helped to have been a player to understand things from a player’s perspective, now you also understand from a coach’s perspective.” For the past three years Deb has been the Associate Athletic Director where she is responsible for scheduling, handling contract negotiations, organizing officiating, overseeing home game management while also teaching classes in the health and wellness program.
Reflecting on Coach Auriemma Deb said, “He’s a great coach. I’m glad he brought me to Connecticut because it’s been a great experience. I have nothing but the best things to say about him. I’ve always felt that the biggest compliment to him is that I feel there would be nothing better than for my daughter to play for him. Even though he has moved on to more championships, and awards he’s always there for all of us when we need him whether it is a phone call, a wedding or a funeral.”
Deb and her husband Tor are both UConn graduates. Although they didn’t begin dating until after their UConn careers, Tor was also an athlete at UConn on the soccer team. They have a four-year-old son Traejan, six-month-old daughter Skylar, and a tragic sudden loss of their fourteen month old daughter Taey who would now have been three years old. Deb continues to play basketball but for fun, not competitively. Tor remains very involved with soccer coaching in a premier soccer program in Glastonbury, CT. It’s a co-ed soccer league so he has introduced Deb to soccer, and she plays on a co-ed team.
Deb ended our conversation saying that having graduated from UConn she was well prepared educationally to enter the workforce, and having been a basketball player has helped to open doors in the state, and brought good things to her. “The UConn connection is always a huge selling point.”