UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Back stateside, Leuer ready to realize NBA dream

MBB_110629_Leuer_Jon_NBA.jpgThere were some "anxious'' moments for Jon Leuer -- the 12th-leading scorer in school history -- while Wisconsin was holding off Milwaukee, 60-54, on Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Arena.

Seated behind the UW bench, Leuer was anxious to see his former team in action. "This is my first experience watching the Badgers live; I never saw them when I was in high school,'' Leuer said,

Recruited out of Orono, Minn., it was a long commute to the Kohl Center. But he never regretted his choice. "I learned a lot from coach (Bo) Ryan on how to be disciplined,'' he said.

It's a much shorter commute -- on N. 4th Street -- between The Cell and the Bradley Center. While enjoying the reunion with his old teammates, Leuer was anxious to join the Milwaukee Bucks.

"I'm just waiting for my contract in Germany to clear FIBA (the International Basketball Federation),'' said Leuer, a second-round selection (40th overall) of the Bucks in the June draft.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the NBA lockout, Leuer signed in early August with a German professional team -- Skyliners Frankfurt -- in the Basketball Bundesliga.

His agent, Mark Bartelstein, made sure that there was an opt-out clause in his contract so that Leuer could return to the states once the labor dispute was resolved and the lockout was ended.

"It was looking gloomy for awhile,'' Leuer admitted of the negotiations which threatened to cancel the entire season. "But my agent kept me informed of what was going on the whole time.''

On Nov. 26, the NBA and the NBA Players Association reached a tentative agreement.  On Dec. 8, the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified.  On Dec. 9, the NBA training camps opened.

On Dec. 15, Leuer signed a two-year deal with the Bucks and practiced for the first time.

"The first 10 minutes I think I was a little nervous -- just kind of the 'Wow' factor, your first NBA practice,'' Leuer said. "But after that it was just basketball. I settled in and I just played the game.''

Bucks coach Scott Skiles was impressed with what he saw out of Leuer. Speaking to the local media corps following the workout, he said, "He's a smart player; he's got good defensive instincts.''

Skiles didn't sound surprised, either.

"Obviously playing where he did in college (Wisconsin) he has been well-coached,'' he said. "Watching his team in Frankfurt, you can tell that they were well-prepared; the coach did a good job.

"Coupled with (the fact) he's a smart player anyway, you wouldn't have been able to watch practice today and pick him out as the guy who just showed up. He got involved with everything.''

After missing the team's first six practices, Leuer does not have any personal timetable. "Right now the only thing I'm focused on is working hard in practice and trying to earn minutes,'' he said.

Leuer does have a reference point for development. As a true freshman, he appeared in 32 games for the Badgers. He had an auspicious Big Ten debut with 25 points at Michigan.

For the most part, though, he was anchored to the bench and got limited playing time. Especially during the final two months of the conference season.

"I know it's tough for a rookie (in the NBA) but it was the same thing I faced as a freshman,'' he said. "Nothing is given to you -- you have to earn you minutes. That's the same mentality I have now.''

Leuer believes that his exposure to pro basketball in Germany will help his transition with the Bucks. "I definitely got better playing with a 24-second clock,'' Leuer said.

There was a "home away from home'' feel to Skyliners Frankfurt, too. One of his teammates was former Northwestern guard Michael (Juice) Thompson. "It was good to have a connection,'' Leuer said.

Leuer played in 10 games and averaged 15 points and eight rebounds in the German League. Justin Gray (Wake Forest) and Jermareo Davidson (Alabama) were also on the Frankfurt roster.

"It was definitely good competition,'' Leuer said. "I'm glad that I went over there because I got to play against other professionals.

"You're playing in a system against other teams that are trying to work their own systems and you're not going to get that in open gyms.

"It was not only a good experience from the basketball aspect, but I learned about being a professional athlete. It's like, 'This is your job and this is all you have to work on -- your game.'''

Besides growing out his hair, Leuer has added some weight to his 6-foot-10 frame. "I'm a few pounds heavier,'' he said. "It's something that I've wanted to improve on -- getting a little stronger.''

Although the Bucks signed free agent Mike Dunleavy Jr. -- the 31-year-old former Duke star -- Leuer wasn't sure how the 6-9 Dunleavy's presence would impact his status, if at all.

Dunleavy is expected to be utilized as a back-up shooting guard and small forward. Leuer recognizes that he can't worry about how the pieces are going to fit into the Bucks' puzzle.

All he can control is how he works and practices.

"I feel like I can come in and knock down some shots and space the floor out,'' Leuer said. "It's a good situation and I'm glad to stay in Wisconsin. The fans have been great to me.''

After his first practice, he admitted, "Ultimately, this is where I really wanted to be. It's been my dream ever since I was a little kid to play in the NBA, so I didn't want to let this opportunity slip away."