No Longer a Breeze

One season after being beaten down by the wear and tear of the conference season, Jon Leuer's off-season work outs have paid off, as the sophomore has become a vital part down the stretch for the Badgers.

MADISON - Walking down Dayton Street last season, a breeze off Lake Mendota probably would have made Jon Leuer stagger.

Height wise, Leuer's 6-foot-10 frame would cause a multitude of matchup problems for opposing teams, as was the case when he dropped 25 points on Michigan in the 2008 Big Ten opener. With his sound shot and perimeter savvy, opposing big men had their work cut out for him with Leuer roaming the perimeter.

As soon as he went inside, however, the big men got their edge back.

Despite his tall frame, Leuer weighed only 208 pounds at the start of the season and even dropped below 200 pounds during the conference grind, a grind that saw Leuer get beat up physically, average only 2.9 points and 8.6 minutes per game, and saw his time on the floor decrease.

Less than a year later, that same breeze has no chance.

One look at Leuer and the physical metamorphosis he went through in the off season is eye opening. In addition to the 20 pounds of muscle he added to his frame by hitting the weight room and the snack bar, Leuer's confidence has gotten the boost, as well, as the sophomore is no longer afraid to go inside and muscle up against some of the best post players in the conference, something that would have backfired badly last season.

"The game wasn't natural to me last year," Leuer said. "I felt like I was doing a lot of thinking on the court about what I was supposed to do or where I was going to go instead of just reacting. Now, it's becoming a habit and a second nature, so I can just go out and play."

That philosophy has worked for Leuer, who leads the Big Ten in scoring (9.1 ppg) among players with six or fewer starts and leads the Badgers in scoring efficiency, averaging a point every 2.29 minutes of action, entering Sunday's game against Michigan (18-11, 8-8 Big Ten).

Also ranking third on the team in rebounding (4.0 per game), Leuer has 10 double-digit scoring games this season. That production made it hard to keep Leuer out of the starting lineup, a spot that head coach Bo Ryan inserted him in for the first time against Illinois.

Leuer responded by playing 31 minutes and scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds. Since then, Leuer, who logged double-digit minutes in only one of UW's final 17 games last season, hasn't left the starting five, averaging 9.2 points and 4.3 rebounds over his last six games.

"I am ready whenever I am called upon," Leuer said. "The big thing is always staying ready because I might not get in during the first substitution. When I am out there, I want to be able to show that I can contribute as much as I can."

Combine the added strength with the much-improved stamina and a year of getting the kinks out have all allowed Leuer to take some steps forward. Although still just scratching the surface of is potential, Leuer has shown the coaches that he can take a bump and still knock down his mid-range jumper or box out and battle for a loose rebound with the best.

"Like a lot of the other freshman who played last year, he went through the peaks and valleys and had some experiences that told him how he needed to get better and where he needed to get better," said Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard, who was the primary recruiter for the Long Lake, Minnesota native. "He knew that he needed to add strength and be ready to work and to his credit, he did that and it's provided a big boost for us."

The boost came at the right time. Since Leuer jumped into the starting lineup, Wisconsin, left for dead after a six game losing streak, is back in the tournament picture after winning five of its last six.

With three games left to go in the conference season, including a trip for Leuer back home to Minnesota on March 4, before the conference tournament, the humble Leuer still is not giving himself the highest of marks with other flaws he sees in his game.

"I still want to establish myself in the post a little bit more and I feel like I can help the team rebound," Leuer said. "Those are all the areas I need to work on. I feel like I am starting to get that a little bit but I still feel I have a long way to go."

If he has another off season like he did last year, he'll be close to fixing those issues, too.

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