Making Weight

A lot has changed in the two years between Duke match-up for Wisconsin junior Jon Leuer. After getting beaten down in conference play the last two seasons, Leuer's off-season dedication has him playing his best basketball of his career heading into Wednesday's ACC-Big Ten Challenge game against the Blue Devils.

MADISON – It was a standing goal for Jon Leuer to put on extra weight to his lanky frame after experiencing the rigors of the Big Ten conference slate two seasons ago.

Leuer felt he accomplished that goal, putting on 15 pounds of muscle to beef his 6-foot-10 frame up to 220 pounds. But as the season progressed and his weight dimensioned, falling to as low as 212 pounds, it was evident to Leuer that more work needed to be done.

"That obviously wasn't quite enough," Leuer said. "I felt like I was a little weak at times."

Playing in all 33 games for UW a season ago, including starting the final 12, Leuer showed he could score – averaging 8.8 points and averaging a point every 2.4 minutes – but didn't always show he could endure, playing 20 minutes or less 17 times, including in four of UW's final five games.

"You don't have to be the tallest of most athletic guy," Leuer said. "You just have to stick your nose in there and go after the ball."

With that mindset, Leuer, now a junior for the Badgers, went back into the weight room and back to the buffet, hoping to add even more weight as he prepared for his third season. The result was Leuer weighing in at 230 pounds, adding another solid 15 pounds of weight since last season ended.

"Playing in the Big Ten, it's a physical league, going up against a lot of guys that are bigger and stronger than you, so you have to maintain that level of physicality," Leuer said. "Every game is really physical and if you haven't worked in the off-season getting bigger or getting stronger, you're going to get pushed around."

With the absence of Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry, two players that made their living rebounding and playing physical in the post, the Badgers need to find a majority of players to replace 371 rebounds and 53 blocks from a season ago. That burden is not only going to fall on Leuer, but post players Keaton Nankivil and Jared Berggren and even UW's senior guards, an area of emphasis this off season.

"We always try to improve something in the off season and I think getting stronger was the main emphasis," said Leuer, who stressed getting stronger in the lower body. "For me, it was just not look at one area in my game, but to improve everything."

Like his teammates, the emphasis is on consistency. Leuer has shown flashes of his scoring potential, like scoring a career-high 25 points at Michigan his freshman season. But just like his minutes spiraled down, the point production suffered, including going 1-of-9 from the floor in last year's NCAA Tournament.

The last time Duke saw Leuer, the freshman played 19 minutes and registered a team-12 points and six rebounds in the Blue Devils 24-point win. When sixth-ranked Duke (6-0) take on Wisconsin (4-1) Wednesday, the Blue Devils will see an entirely different Leuer, who ranks second on the team in scoring (13.8 ppg) and has posted double figures in four of Wisconsin's first five games, a characteristic that has come with Leuer having two years of knowledge under his belt.

"That kind of comes with the territory," Leuer said. "You can't try to do too much and force the issue. It's about playing within the offense and knowing that you're going to get good shots as long as you make good decisions. That's the main thing."

A lot has changed since the last time Wisconsin faced Duke. That UW team was still trying to find its dynamic and chemistry with each other, something that came sitting quietly in the visitor's locker room of Cameron Indoor Stadium. With a third-place finish in Maui and the majority of the roster having gone through the struggles of last year, it's safe to say the chemistry is ahead of the curve.

"Everyone gets along great," Leuer said. "The new guys that came in have gelled with us. That can go a long way too, just not the on-the-court stuff, (but) having good relationships with your teammates off the court. As far as the stuff we've worked on, the seniors have really stepped up in that leadership role and that's been big for us."

Whether or not that helps UW against Duke this time remains to be seen, but it certainly won't hurt as time goes on.

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