Leuer follows the Wisconsin Way
MADISON, Wis. -- Bo Ryan sat Jon Leuer down on his Wisconsin office couch at the Kohl Center and dealt with him as straight as he has dealt with every rising senior since he arrived in Madison.
It's on you.
No magic words, nothing terribly inspirational. The coach simply has a way of commanding his player's attention. He always has.
"I'd like to say I have the ability to pull that out, and some coaches would tell you some rigmarole,'' Ryan said. "I saw the difference it made when we started winning. I would drop hints to the next class. How do you want to be remembered when your class goes out? I do my interviews in the spring and tell them it's your team.''
Leuer is next, and the leadership that he needs to provide has already begun in spring conditioning for a UW team that will once again be a Big Ten contender, alongside Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State.
The Badgers were completely undersold prior to the 2009-10 season. They were picked ninth in the Big Ten despite having Leuer and a backcourt of Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon returning. They finished with 24 wins and might have had a real shot to win the league if not for Leuer's broken left wrist that kept him out of nine games. Wisconsin garnered a 4-seed in the NCAA tournament, but was crushed by 12-seed Cornell in the second round.
Leuer wasn't alone in the Big Ten in dealing with an injury, as other potential first team all-Big Ten players have had to deal with major injuries: Purdue's Robbie Hummel (ACL late in Big Ten season), Michigan State's Kalin Lucas (ruptured Achilles in NCAAs), Northwestern's Kevin Coble (fractured foot in preseason) and Ohio State's Evan Turner (fractured back early in the season). All but Turner, who declared for and stayed in the NBA draft, return for next season.
In previous years, Ryan has found leaders in players who weren't highly coveted coming out of high school, like Hughes and Bohannon and Joe Krabbenhoft.
Leuer was certainly a talent out of Orono, Minn., and while it's impossible to say for sure what would have happened if Tubby Smith had been the Gophers' head coach at the time -- Leuer said it wouldn't have mattered -- he has become the latest in a line of Wisconsin players who have developed into pro prospects.
Leuer will return in the fall with a real shot at being a first-round pick in 2011 and the latest anti-one-and-done in Madison.
Leuer always had the size (6-foot-10) but didn't have the strength. He had the skill set, but not the game knowledge.
"I wasn't even 200 pounds when I got here,'' said Leuer, who is listed at 240 now. "I definitely expanded my game. I can play inside and out. The versatility is the best part of my game and allows me to cause matchup problems.''
"It's your team,'' Ryan said he told Leuer. "It's your team. Keaton is more laid-back. Tim Jarmusz dives on the floor and does that stuff. But Jon is definitely the guy everyone looks up to. He gained a lot of respect by the way he handled the injury.''
Ryan said Leuer never pulled a star move and took rehab on his own time. He was always around, doing everything he could to come back and help the Badgers. Ryan said he wasn't going to cheat the recovery time post-surgery (a pin was put in the wrist), ensuring that Leuer didn't come back until he was completely healthy.
"Some guys disappear,'' Ryan said. "Jon didn't do that. Jon's ready to jump into that role. It's about establishing that before turning it over to the next group. We only put seniors on that wall out there.''
Ryan pointed out of his office to a wall within the basketball common area. On the wall were pictures of Bohannon and Hughes. As great as he was, NBA veteran Devin Harris never made the wall since he played only three seasons, not four. Up soon will be the photo mural of the three seniors for next season, led by Leuer.
"He'll be a leader just like Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon and like Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry the year before,'' Ryan said. "This will be great for Jon. He just steps to the front. You know how when you grew up there were these guys in the back that just hung back there and then they grew up? Well, Jon's a senior now and he's confident, he's a leader and he'll be more aggressive. This is perfect for him.''
Ryan can stay true to his philosophy because it has worked. Let's not kid ourselves: He would gladly take a one-and-done candidate, a lock for the lottery. But Harris wasn't that out of high school and instead evolved into a top-10 pick. Alando Tucker wasn't a lock for stardom out of high school either, and after four years he was a first-round pick.
"We do it without [the one-and-done],'' Ryan said. "I never said we don't have talented players. But I feel like we're doing what we're supposed to be doing. But yes, absolutely, we would take one and get him to the next level as fast as anybody else. It's always been about the fit at Wisconsin, the academic requirements, the fit.''
The Badgers lose the senior backcourt of Hughes and Bohannon but, led by Leuer, a strong nucleus returns: rising sophomore Ryan Evans; the ultimate glue guys, Nankivil and Jarmusz; and a backcourt Ryan trusts -- Jordan Taylor, Rob Wilson and a "tough sucker in Wquinton Smith, a walk-on who can take care of the ball and plays great defense."
"Jordan Taylor emerged to where I can put the ball in his hands the next two years and be fine," Ryan added. "He has the talent and moxie. He's quite the leader, too. He'll be ready to take over. Rob Wilson has shown flashes and now it's his chance.''
But if the Badgers once again become a team that wins 20-plus games and is in the NCAAs, it will start with Leuer leading this group when they reconvene later in the summer.
The schedule will be demanding, with a road game to start the season at UNLV, a road game at Marquette, a trip to Orlando's Old Spice Classic in November, and a likely home game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which Ryan hopes is against North Carolina. The Big Ten slate will again be daunting.
But do you think anyone will be picking Wisconsin to finish ninth again?
"Coach Ryan has been big on developing our body, to be strong and physical enough to impose our will,'' Leuer said. "It has already started in the offseason. We're already into our offseason workouts. We'll go back home for a bit, work on our games, and be back here with the freshmen.
"The track record under coach Ryan is to go to the NCAA, win in the Big Ten. We don't always get the respect. We take that as a challenge. We know we have to earn it every year and that motivates us.''
Leuer has learned well. He's a Ryan disciple as a senior, just like he intended.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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