Let’s go back two years. As the 2012 tournament approached, Michigan had secured a respectably solid 4-seed and was looking ahead to a first round matchup with the 13-seed Ohio University. Led by then freshman Trey Burke, The Wolverines succumbed to the madness of March, and proverbially became the first page in the Bobcats’ magical Cinderella story. After upending South Florida, the MAC-representing Ohio ultimately fell to North Carolina in the uncharted territory of the Sweet 16, well farther than any expert could have postulated.
Defeated and deflated after an unanticipated first round exit, the Wolverines were unaware of the catalytic chain reaction that their upsetting loss would ignite.
At the same time, Caris LeVert was a high school senior from Pickerington, Ohio, committed to play his next four years for John Groce’s Bobcats. But Ohio’s tournament run had attracted immense attention to the overachieving program, and Groce leapt at the opportunity when offered the head coaching position at University of Illinois, effectively striking while the iron was at it’s absolute hottest (the heftiest of shoutouts to Andy Enfield).
Groce’s departure spelled trouble for LeVert, who subsequently decommitted from Ohio, opening the door for John Beilein, who, in the same recruiting class, had already locked down Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas. Two years and one National Championship appearance later, I think it’s safe to say we can thank our lucky stars that Caris LeVert is not thrashing his way through the MAC right now, but rather, effectively co-leading the Wolverines toward a Big Ten title.
The 6’6” sophomore has nothing short of exploded into the national limelight. A year after averaging just over 2 points on 10 minutes per game, LeVert, like the entire Michigan basketball squad this year, has stepped up in monumental fashion: 13 points per game, second on the team behind Stauskas, along with over 4 rebounds and almost 3 assists. In the past ten games alone, LeVert has scored in double-figures 8 times, topping 20 points 4 times. In a season where he initially frequented the bench, LeVert has emerged as one of the top offensive and defensive assets for the Wolverines.
An increasingly familiar factoid has surrounded LeVert, as well as Nik Stauskas since the beginning of the year; that is, their simultaneous physical metamorphoses over last summer that transformed the two into mountains of muscle (comparatively). But LeVert, who despite the weight gain, managed to maintain his slender and long-armed lanky physique, proving instrumental for his high shooting release, rebounding ability, as well as his capacity to create space and finish at the rim while absorbing contact. A true basketball Renaissance Man, LeVert’s dynamism on the court is responsible for a large chunk of Michigan’s success thus far in 2014.
Throughout Michigan’s season, a number of storylines have circulated surrounding the team: McGary’s injury, Stauskas’ role as a star, GR3’s various struggles. But the story you don’t normally hear is that of Caris LeVert, who has quietly kept the Wolverines afloat in times of turmoil. A dominant performance against Michigan State, characterized by the timeliest of three-pointers, inflexible defensive effort throughout and a resounding two-handed flush, cemented LeVert as a force to be reckoned with. Additionally, I think Caris LeVert may have brought the walk-off to basketball.