View from the Bleachers

Senior Jon Leuer did not start off as an All-Big Ten player of an All-American candidate, but he will end his senior season as such. Keaton Nankivil wasn't regarded as a good outside shooter, but has proven otherwise this season. How come? The answer is simple.

MADISON — Before Kevin Garnett led a revolution of early entrants into the NBA draft, the key to success in college basketball was developing your players over a four year span.

This meant typical "freshman mistakes" — whatever that phrase actually means — often would earn a young-stud a seat on the bench rather then the exasperated- acceptance coaches display today to future lottery picks. And this makes sense, when you have a one-year rental car you need to get as much mileage out of it as possible.

Still, with Bo Ryan, the old adage remains. Young players learn the hard way from their mistakes. Just watch any time Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans or even Josh Gasser turn the ball over — Ryan will be pulling up a sub before the ball is even going the other way.

The result, of course, has been impressive (and sometimes funny) consistency. It is a pretty good bet that every season national pundits will underrate the Badgers. And every season Wisconsin will finish in the top four of the Big Ten and earn an NCAA Tournament berth. You just have to shake your head and laugh after a while about the annual pattern.

The reason for this consistency that seems to take everyone outside the state of Wisconsin by surprise each season is easy to ascertain:

Badger players improve each season. And I mean each and every season.

A look at this squad's senior class provides a perfect example.

Anyone who knows basketball knew Jon Leuer was going to be Bo's next star after Leuer's freshman year. He had the skill set that excels in the swing offense, and his 25-point explosion at Michigan was a savory taste of what was to come.

But Bo incorporated him slowly, with Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft ahead in the rotation.

The result was Leuer developing all parts of his game — instead of being forced into major minutes as a perimeter-oriented sophomore. With talented guys ahead of him, Leuer couldn't just play acceptable or fine to warrant major minutes, he had to be excellent. And thus he worked to make sure he became excellent. Now Leuer can score literally from anywhere on the floor.

An even better example is Keaton Nankivil.

Nankivil points per game, blocks per game and field goal percentage have improved every single year. He has finally put together his immense skill set with the confidence to pull the trigger in actual game action.

Now Nankivil lures the opposing shot blocker away from the hoop or makes him pay with a 3-pointer he is shooting 47 percent on. Not coincidentally, the Badgers rank No. 1 in the nation in points per possession.

Even the rest of the senior class with Tim Jarmusz, Wquinton Smith and Brett Valentyn have put together their finest seasons in the last year of the program.

Ryan draws heat from local media and bloggers alike every season for not being able to bring in top-rated recruits (What's up Vander Blue?). But then those same media members and bloggers will be praising Bo in March for making an 11th straight NCAA Tournament.

It seems pretty clear why. Ryan needs recruits hungry enough to work for their playing time. Not a single Badger comes in to the program thinking they are entitled to see the floor.

Jon Leuer will end up this season as a first-team All-American.

It is noteworthy he didn't start out that way.


Badger Nation Top Stories