Dec. 18, 2010
VERONA, Wis. -- Jon Leuer and his teammates sat on a row of folding chairs in the center of the room. In front of them, the largest throng of interrogators they'll face all year.
The questions came fast and furious.
"Jon Leuer, do you think you can play in the NBA?"
"Hey Duje Dukan, what did you work on over the summer?"
"Mr. Nankivil, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"Mike Bruesewitz, are you the bestest player on the team?"
Instead of a press conference full of reporters, five members of the Wisconsin men's basketball team recently faced an equally intimidating firing squad.
An all-school assembly of over 400 elementary school kids.
On one of the team's recent off days, Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil, Mike Bruesewitz, Duje Dukan and Dan Fahey traded the Kohl Center court for a gymnasium floor at Glacier Edge Elementary School in nearby Verona, Wis. to participate in the school's Read-a-thon fundraiser.
Spending time in the community has always been an important part of being a Wisconsin student athlete. Leuer's nomination for the Senior CLASS Award - which is given to the nation's top senior based on excellence in community, classroom, character and competition - is a testament to that.
So when fifth-grade teacher Lindsay Herb contacted the men's basketball program about getting involved at her school, the basketball players jumped at the chance like a weak-side rebound.
During a 20-minute welcome and question-and-answer session, the five Badgers fielded questions on a wide range of topics.
When asked why he plays basketball, part of Leuer's answer was to stand back-to-back with the inquisitive third grader. The nearly three-foot height difference said enough and drew laughter from the crowd.
The players often steered the conversation back to the reason for their visit, to promote reading and explain the value of learning. The topic of favorite books came up and Bruesewitz spoke a language to which the children could certainly relate.
"I really like the Harry Potter books. In fact, I went back and re-read all of them again this summer," the sophomore forward said. "I actually like the books better than the movies because you can visualize the characters how you want and make up your own thoughts."
But Mr. Leuer, how does reading have anything to do with playing basketball?
"We actually use reading every day," Leuer explained. "We have to read our playbooks and we have scouting reports on other teams and players that we have to read before each game. Plus, we're students too and we need to read in all of our classes."
When Bruesewitz was asked if he knew a slam dunk was worth two points. He laughed and replied "Yes, I'm aware of that." He then turned to the freshman teammate on his right and insisted he show off a dunk. Dukan, who later admitted to being scared stiff in front of the all-school assembly, obliged putting down a hammer dunk and sending the crowd into hysteria.
The five Badgers then split up and read to all 24 classrooms on an individual basis. The Glacier Edge PTO purchased books like "Knuffle Bunny Free" and "Chicken BIG" for each player to read, which were then donated to the school's library. Each player read a book out loud to the children before taking questions in a smaller setting and signing autographs.
Before leaving, the five players each signed a poster for every classroom as well and a basketball for the school's display case.
Keaton was asked what he wants to be when he grows up and he responded, "I actually think I want to be a teacher. My favorite subject is science because you get to learn all kinds of new things and do experiments. That would be fun to teach."
Nankivil and his teammates may not realize it now, but they're already teaching.