When the Memphis Grizzlies came to Minneapolis last Friday, there was a buzz around head coach David Joerger and his return to Minnesota. Joerger grew up in the small town of Staples, a few hours north of the Twin Cities. Joerger stated about 40 family members and friends came from Staples as well as Sioux Falls, S.D., Fargo and the Bismarck, N.D area. But he wasn’t the only member of the Grizzlies that day with fans supporting him and a return to Minnesota.
Jon Leuer, a Long Lake native, was also returning to his home state. It wasn’t the first time playing in the Target Center as a professional. His first NBA action was played in the Target Center. Leuer scored 18 as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks in his rookie year during the first preseason game of the season.
I played pretty well that game. For my first NBA action to be here in front of friends and family in the building I grew up going to games in, it was fun.
Leuer was a highly touted and recruited high school player, receiving multiple All-State and All-Conference honors. He also played guard for a decorated club team known as the Minnesota Magic, one of Minnesota’s most elite AAU teams. Leuer is a graduate of Orono High School and went on to attend the University of Wisconsin. When asked about Bo Ryan, Leuer replied,
He’s got a good sense of humor, a pretty fun guy to be around on the court. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to play for him.
Leuer never shot lower than 40 percent from the field during his time at Wisconsin and was twice awarded All-Academic Big 10 honors, among other prestigious accolades. By his senior year Sports Illustrated tagged Leuer as the Big-10 Preseason Player of the Year. He had the unique ability to use the intangibles he had learned as a guard playing with the Magic, and combine them after a significant growth spurt prior to high school graduation. Leuer’s ability to stretch the floor and knock down shots is an important facet to succeeding in today’s NBA.
But, the transition hasn’t been entirely easy — nor has it been consistent.
Because of the lockout during the offseason of his rookie year, Leuer joined a club team in Germany. He headed overseas, as did others, and waited for things in the NBA to get going again.
It was something I looked into when the lockout was going to happen. Getting to play in a system with other professionals, it was good transition coming out of college and transitioning into the NBA. I just tried to make the best of it; it was a good experience for me.
After returning to America to continue his childhood dream, Leuer endured part of the business that goes with being a professional athlete. He was traded to Houston but was released only a month after being traded to the Rockets by the Bucks. Shortly after that he was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Cavaliers. After only five appearances Leuer was assigned to the Cavs D-League affiliate, the Canton Charge. There he averaged 20 points, on 55 percent shooting, 12 rebounds, and played a substantial 36 minutes per game. Leuer was called back to Cleveland, only to be reassigned to Canton a few weeks later. He was recalled after two more appearances with the Charge and has managed to stay out of the D-League since January of last season.
Some crazy stuff happened in the offseason, and I wasn’t playing much in Cleveland. To go down there and reinforce that I’m a good player, it was good for my confidence — it helped me going forward.
It certainly would appear that way. He eventually found himself in Memphis and opportunities finally opened up for him. Leuer is shooting 49 percent from the field and 47 percent from behind-the-arc this season, taking every advantage to step-up in the absence of injured teammate, Marc Gasol. Between November 29 and January 8, he helped keep Memphis afloat in an ultra-competitive Western Conference. Leuer played an average of 20 minutes in 19 games, averaged 11 points, and shot over 53 percent from both the field, and behind the three-point line. The Grizzlies went 12-7 during that stretch.
In a column back on December 9, Ian Levy showed us how Coach Joerger used Leuer to stretch the floor. At that time the 24 year-old from Long Lake ranked fourth in the entire league in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage (Any jump shot outside the three-point line where a player possessed the ball for 2 seconds or less and took no dribbles). Leuer had taken 23 three’s at that point, almost double the amount of attempts between his first two years in the league combined.
As news outlets and reporters filed in-and-out of morning shootaround to speak with Coach Joerger about his return to Minnesota, Leuer fired away from different locations behind the three-point line. He was one of the last to step off the court. The story of the hardworking, persistent, Orono High School graduate — with a quick release and lethally accurate jumper — was overlooked. But Leuer was still going to have plenty of support in the stands by game time. Leuer told me he had 20 or so tickets for his close friends as well as family, and an additional 30-40 were purchased by others hoping to see him play during his brief time back home. Leuer scored 15 points on 8 of 14 shooting and snatched nine rebounds in a loss to the Wolves back on December 15, but that was in Memphis. We both were hoping he would get into the game against Minnesota at Target Center last Friday. Unfortunately, the,94-90, gutsy, tough-nosed, rugged game between the Wolves and Grizzlies didn’t call for his services. Yet, as Courtney Lee drained a jumper to open the scoring, Leuer was the first Memphis player off the bench standing, clapping, and supporting his teammates just as he’s done throughout his entire career.
Leuer looking like he’s in good spirits on the bench. He’s in his home state.
— Grizzlam (@mattyp90) February 1, 2014
Leuer’s career has undoubtedly been a journey. He’s been overseas, in the D-League, is now — technically — a member of his fourth NBA franchise, and he’s still only 24 years old. Yet, fans of the Grizzlies recently crafted a new nickname for their stretch forward out of Wisconsin — Johnny Badger.
It’s something the fans came up with, and it seems like it’s sticking; it’s cool with me.
It’s good to see Leuer finding a role with a team, or at the least a niche on the court. Outside of the things players can, and cannot, control; he has done — and said — the right things during his career. Whatever the future holds, wherever the business of professional basketball takes the Long Lake, Minnesota native — Leuer describes the experience thus far as a blessing.
It’s always been a dream to play in this league. To actually be living it, and doing it, it’s a blessing every day. It’s something I’m thankful for each day. Just being apart of this team, this entire organization, is great. Things like going to the Western Conference Finals last year, that’s what you dream about as a kid, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have some pretty good moments so far.