Better Off Red: WORLDS ARE COLLIDING

Earthquakes! Volcanoes! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

That’s what I have to look forward to when Jon Leuer suits up for the Milwaukee Bucks in his first real game action. Probably. Well, maybe, in a good way! To date, the world has conspired to keep him from my sight, at least while he’s actively playing basketball. The lockout killed off Summer League. He signed a professional contract in Germany to play in a leauge that often doesn’t televise it’s own games in the city in which they’re played. It’s as though some diabolical force was pushing us apart.

This is all starting to sound a little weird, but I assure you my intentions are primarily academic. I am absolutely pumped to see Leuer on a basketball court with real-life NBA players. Despite my heroic (read: stubborn) efforts to assert and defend his highest-level potential, I honestly have no idea what to expect. One minute I’m telling myself he’s a unique enough talent–a near-7-footer with three-point touch and excellent foul shooting–to make it essentially on novelty alone, the next I’m reminding myself that he was a second-round pick in what was almost unanimously described as the weakest draft in years.

I’ve lamented the lack of NBA talent that passes through the University of Wisconsin many times. I’ve adopted generalized mottos that describe how Bo Ryan’s system has turned the Badger basketball team into the Moneyball A’s of the NCAA: consistently good in the regular season, total toss-ups in the postseason. Many Badger fans are content with perennially competing for a Big Ten Title and stringing together NCAA Tournament appearances. To each his own, I suppose. Whereas professional basketball is all about winning championships (almost to a fault, considering the damage done to players’ legacies if they fail to secure a ring), there’s nobody breathing down Ryan’s neck because he hasn’t won the big one. Ryan’s record might not be viewed so favorably in cities like Chapel Hill, Lexington, or Lawrence, but it serves him well in Madison.

I’m hopeful that Leuer’s foray into the NBA will serve Madison the same. In a city dominated by college sports, I often question if there’s any metaphorical room at the metaphorical bar for another professional sport. Fandom finds little obstruction up highways 151 and 41 to Green Bay, and even I-94 is well-traveled by goodwill towards the newly-competitive baseball team residing in Miller Park. But that support doesn’t seem to have permeated downtown Milwaukee, where the Bradley Center yearns for visitors (and their money).

I’ve always been a little surprised by that, given how ubiquitous sports fandom seems in this city. Surely it’s thanks in large part to a team that hasn’t really been significant since 2001, aside from a spike during the Fear the Deer run. But the big-name Badgers who gave it a go in the pros haven’t exactly taken off. Devin Harris has been plagued by injuries since his All-Star appearance, while players like Alando Tucker and Brian Butch bounce in and out of training camp and D-League rosters. With luck, Leuer’s proximity to Madison will keep him a little fresher in the minds of his fans, but there’s no denying that the lockout killed his momentum. Instead of a promotion-filled summer where the Bucks were able to dangle their hometown hero out on posters and billboards, the organization couldn’t even acknowledge his existence.

Even if it’s pure symbolism at best, I’m excited for the connection. I can only hope that the legions of college basketball disciples soften their cries of abhorrence toward the professional counterpart when they see a familiar face suit up in Milwaukee, even if he is glued to the bench (and trust me, he will be for quite some time). The Badger basketball team doesn’t need publicity or support in its own city, but I can’t be the only one who thinks the way this whole arrangement worked out is just plain cool. Leuer might flame out like so many of his predecessors, and he’ll just be another ex-Badger who failed to ever really get off the ground. But surrounded by the cyclical world of college basketball, where the name on the front of the jersey stays the same and the name on the back isn’t actually there at all, any legacy probably beats no legacy at all.

Honestly though, you know who likely doesn’t care about any of that stuff? Jon Leuer. I bet he’d feel exactly as he does right now whether he was the fifth or the fiftieth pick. And rightfully so–it’s not his job to be a brand ambassador. He’s about to fulfill the ultimate dream of college basketball players around the nation. I’m just happy I get to watch.

First pre-season game tomorrow night suckas! It’s on yo’ televisions! There’s a 66% chance the Bucks will score more than the Badgers did last night!

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