St. Francis - It was tough for Milwaukee Bucks rookie Jon Leuer to stand on the sideline and watch.
But that's what the former University of Wisconsin star had to do for the first six days of training camp, while waiting to be cleared by FIBA, basketball's international governing body, from his German contract. Leuer, who played for a Frankfurt-based team in the Bundesliga during the NBA lockout, finally got into the fray Thursday at the Cousins Center. He signed a two-year contract with the Bucks and made a strong first impression in his opening practice.
"He's a smart player," coach Scott Skiles said. "He's got good defensive instincts. Obviously playing where he did in college, he's been well-coached.
"Watching his team in Frankfurt, you could tell they were wellprepared.
And he's a smart player, anyway. You wouldn't have been able to watch practice and pick him out as the guy who just showed up today.
"He got involved with everything; he's been watching closely and he was good today." The 6-foot-10 forward admitted to having some nervousness dur- ing the first 10 minutes of the workout.
But soon that vanished as he made some plays and heard encouragement from the coaches and his new teammates.
"It's kind of the wow factor, your first NBA practice," Leuer said. "But after that, it was just basketball. I settled in and just played the game." Leuer said he is eager to learn from the Bucks' veteran frontcourt players, including center Andrew Bogut and power forward Drew Gooden.
And the rookie said he never considered staying in Germany for the rest of the season.
"Ultimately, this was just where I wanted to be," Leuer said. "It's been a dream ever since I was a little kid to play in the NBA. I just didn't want to let that opportunity slip away." The compressed 66-game league schedule means there will be fewer practices and less time to incorporate rookies this season. But teams also may need to use their entire rosters because of the frequency of games.
"Right now, the only thing I'm focused on is just working hard in practice and trying to earn minutes," Leuer said. "It's kind of the same thing I had to do at Wisconsin as a freshman. Nothing was given to me. And it's the same situation here." Leuer, the 40th-overall pick in the June draft, played four years under coach Bo Ryan at Wisconsin and posted career bests in points (18.3) and rebounds (7.2) as a senior while helping the Badgers reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
"As a big guy who could play inside and out, coach Ryan's system definitely benefited me," Leuer said. "There are some similarities with coach Skiles, too.
"There are scenarios where I'm picking and popping and doing dribble-handoff things where big men have to handle the ball." During the lockout, Leuer played in 10 league games for the Fraport Skyliners of the Bundesliga. He averaged 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 49.5% from the field.
He also played in three EuroCup games and averaged 12 points and 4.3 rebounds.
"It was definitely good to have the experience playing overseas and playing against some good competition over there," Leuer said.
Getting closer: The Bucks had 13 players available for practice Thursday, including camp players Ron Howard and Marcus Lewis.
But Skiles held out hope he would soon have close to a full roster.
Rookie forward Tobias Harris and second-year forward Larry Sanders remained out of practice after suffering dehydration issues Sunday and being hospitalized for two nights.
Forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute continued as an observer at practice pending resolution of his visa status. Veteran Stephen Jackson did only a bit of work early in practice as he continued to battle a lower back injury, and Gooden was held out.
"He's had a lot of load on him right now, on his foot and everything," Skiles said of the 6-10 Gooden, who has dropped 16 pounds off his normal playing weight. "We just want to be cautious right now." Gooden is coming back after being limited by a case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, a condition that kept him out of 41 games last season. He did play extensively in the Bucks' intrasquad scrimmage at the Bradley Center on Wednesday night.
Harris and Sanders were taken to Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center after practice Sunday.
"It was scary, the whole ordeal," Sanders said. "I've never been hospitalized like that before. The doctors did a great job of explaining what it was.
"We're doing a good job of keeping fluids in our system, of flushing this thing out and not letting this happen again.".
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Copyright, 2011, Journal Sentinel, All Rights Reserved.