MADISON - With the annual Wisconsin red-white scrimmage set to take place in a matter of hours, BadgerBlitz.com will spend the day leading up to the event featuring several individual players.
Fourth in the series is junior forward Jon Leuer. As one of the more versatile big men in the league, Leuer consistently found himself scoring the ball a season ago. Now, entering his junior year, Leuer is poised for yet another breakout performance.
The following is a question and answer with Leuer.
Jon, in the weight room during the off-season, did you add any bulk or anything?
Leuer: Yeah, I added about 10 or 15 pounds. I don't know where, but I guess it just kind of filled out my frame a little bit more. I'm hoping that will help me out this season.
What are you at right now weight wise?
Leuer: I'm about 228 pounds.
Is that where you want to be? Are you looking to add more before the season starts?
Leuer: Yeah, that's where I wanted to be. For the summer that was kind of my goal, just to keep packing it on, packing it on. Now that we've gone through all the hill stuff and I've been able to kind of maintain that weight.
Now, it's just trying to maintain that through the whole season and not have any lapses where you drop five or 10 pounds. It's just keep eating right and keep lifting hard and hopefully I can maintain that throughout the season.
You've been through it a couple of times now, but to withstand a Big Ten schedule especially in the frontcourt, you have to be a pretty solid weight. Is that a fair assessment?
Leuer: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, you look at the Big Ten and across the board there are guys that are big, strong, physical and athletic that can move. So you have to be all of those things if you want to compete at a high level. That was one of our main emphasis this off-season, to be able to withstand the level of physicality in the Big Ten.
What have you seen the most improvement in so far in the off-season in your game?
Leuer: Well you know, I would say the strength is the big plus. In the open gym games I'm trying to post up harder and look for opportunities that way. But you can't really just look at one thing. In the off-season you try to improve every part of your game. So that's what I tried to do. Shooting, ball handling, defense and all that stuff.
How important is it for you to be physically right in order to contribute throughout the season?
Leuer: Well it's huge. Like I was saying, the Big Ten is one of the most physical leagues in the country. If you're not able to withstand that, it doesn't give you a very good chance to win and be successful. That was one of our main emphasis this off-season, to get stronger and be able to push people around rather than having them pushing you around.
Confidence wise, the play of the team in the NCAA tournament looked pretty good. Is that kind of helping you guys moving forward?
Leuer: Yeah, we weren't satisfied with the way things ended up, but I feel like down the stretch we grew a lot as a team last year and that kind of fueled us and gave us momentum coming into this off-season. Everything I saw this off-season, just how hard the guys went in the weight room and when we went to the hill and how hard we all ran that. Now, just the first few days of practice, I really like this team's work ethic. I think we'll be alright.
Besides the leadership in losing Marcus (Landry) and Joe (Krabbenhoft), there are a lot of points and assists off the board. Are you guys looking to step up and and take them?
Leuer: Yeah, definitely. That's the two key contributors, just tough guys, tough players and great leaders. That's definitely going to be a tough role to fill, but I think we have the guys that can do it and we just have to sacrifice like those guys did.
Last year you had some really big games for Wisconsin, but at times you struggled to play as consistent as you would have liked. How much is consistency going to be a factor for you, especially with Marcus and Joe, who were consistent on a game-by-game basis gone, how important is that for you to do what you want to ultimately do on this team?
Leuer: That's the huge thing, to stay consistent night in and night out. You're going to have games where the hoop seems like the size of the ocean and other ones where you can't buy one. But you know, with that being said, you can't just focus on your offensive game. You can contribute in so many ways.
Marcus and Joe are great examples from last year. If they had an off night shooting, they still made their presence felt on the defensive end, rebounding or coming up with a big block or steal. So every night you just have to make the right decisions when you are out there and the rest will take care of itself.
After losing some frontcourt players from a year ago, talk about the growth that some of the other guys have made in terms of getting better and being able to contribute.
Leuer:Starting off with Keaton Nankivil, playing against him in open gym this summer, he's as big as a house. When he decides to post up you can't get around him. He's worked a lot on his game and just being able to finish and take contact and being able to get those and one plays. He's come a long way.
Jared Berggren is also another big guy that will be able to help us out. Once he gets the ball in the post he can finish with either hand which makes him almost impossible to guard. He's got a lot stronger and he's working on his feet. Him and Keaton, they're feet are big for them in ball screens and other types of screens. I think they'll definitely help us out this year.
This program has always been about Big Ten championships and making the NCAA's every year. Is that still the goal this year and is that a realistic goal to get there? How much did last year teach you in terms of being consistent and getting that done?
Leuer: Obviously that's the goal here every year, not just to make the dance or the tournament but to make it far and get to the final four and win a championship. If you're not playing for that, then you probably shouldn't be playing college basketball.
But you know, last year we had a pretty good run. We weren't satisfied with the way things ended up with Xavier and that kind of gave us a little extra motivation this off-season. We grew a lot as a team last year and that gave us momentum heading into this season.
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