TUCSON — Wisconsin senior forward Jon Leuer has always been known for his demeanor as much as his play.
Serious. Quiet. Somewhat reserved.
So when the 6-foot-10 All-Big Ten selection went back to Madison after spending the summer with the USA Select team and practicing against some of the NBA's best players in preparation for the FIBA Championships, his teammates could tell something was different.
"I think we could all see that he had a kind of swagger that he didn't have before, he had a new kind of confidence," Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren said. "It wasn't anything he was saying, it was in how he was playing. We'd get in pickup games and he could just kind of do what he wanted against us. And that's carried into this year."
Leuer drew praise for his play at training camps in Las Vegas and New York while competing for two weeks against Team USA big men Kevin Love, Lamar Odom and Tyson Chandler.
Now a Wooden Award finalist, Leuer averages 18.7 points and 7.3 rebounds. He had 22 points and seven rebounds in the Badgers' second-round win over Belmont, setting up tonight's game against Kansas State with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
"(Playing with USA Select) helped out a lot," Leuer said. "Proving to yourself that you can play against some of those guys, you know, definitely gives you some confidence."
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was proud of his star forward for being able to have success against some of the best players in the world. But he also made sure to point out that his approach to coaching him hadn't changed.
"Jon's Jon, he's serious, he's quiet. Jon's not one of those guys that really peacocks. On the court if I told Jon, 'You missed that block out there,' I didn't see any swagger after I ripped him for not doing something he was supposed to," Ryan said, laughing. "But why not feel pretty good about doing what he did this summer? You got a chance to do some things that not everybody gets to do. That was good stuff."
Berggren said Leuer, who is projected as a late first- or early second-round pick in this year's NBA Draft, has been the driving force behind the Badgers' success.
"He has pushed us all to get better, all year," Berggren said. "He's absolutely the perfect example of what a leader should be."
Leuer was able to stretch the floor out against Belmont, grabbing an alley-oop for a ferocious dunk in the second half and then following it by draining a three-pointer.
"When you have a four or a five that can shoot like that, it does cause concern," Kansas State center Jordan Henriquez-Roberts said. "You don't see a lot of that, so we're not necessarily used to it but it's definitely something we're prepared for. You just have to be aware that (Leuer) he can hurt you from inside and on the perimeter."