Saturday, Michigan basketball’s 1975 National Championship runner-up team was welcomed back to Crisler Center along with the 1986 Big Ten Championship team. It was a part of the Wolverines’ 100th anniversary celebration of varsity basketball at the University, and it happened to fall on an important, mid-February game against No. 18 Purdue.
Though it hasn’t quite been 100 years since senior guard Caris LeVert returned to the court, some fans feel like he’s been gone nearly as long since Michigan coach John Beilein called him “day to day” with a lower-leg injury in early January.
LeVert didn’t start, but he checked into the game almost seven minutes into the first half to a standing ovation.
Junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. said having the basketball alumni in the house helped propel the Wolverines to their 61-56 defeat of the Boilermakers, but LeVert’s return to the court provided necessary added energy as well.
“I was really happy that the crowd gave him a standing ovation when he came out and before when he checked in,” Walton said. “It’s kind of like a mental thing. It gives you some stability, that one of our most experienced guys, one of the best players in the country, is back out there with you. It kind of eases your mind, and I’m ready for him to get back to logging it in the 25s and 30s (minutes).”
Though LeVert missed his only shot attempt and played just 11 minutes, he was able to grab five boards. He tried to dish the ball to his teammates from tricky positions under the net a few times as well, but his teammates let it slip through their hands for turnovers instead.
They aren’t used to having his pace of play back.
”He’s a great player, so you never know when you’re going to get the ball,” said sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. “He makes a lot of great passes, so you’ve gotta be ready for anything and I think some people were surprised when the ball came to them.”
LeVert has participated in one and a half practices for a total of three hours since his last appearance on Dec. 30, and because of that, he was feeling “wobbly” prior to the second half, so Beilein decided to shut him down.
“We didn’t have a lot of action for (LeVert) — he was just going to play,” Beilein said. “Just get out there and do what you do for 10 or 15 minutes so that when we go to Ohio State (on Tuesday), at least now, we know you can play.”