Spotlight finding Livers after dunk, breakout March

Monday, March 25, 2019 - 10:02pm

Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers slammed down a highlight-real dunk in Michigan's Round of 32 win over Florida.

Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers slammed down a highlight-real dunk in Michigan's Round of 32 win over Florida. Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

DES MOINES, Iowa — At Michigan’s media day in October, Isaiah Livers sat with two reporters as a swarm of cameras huddled around Jordan Poole a few tables away.

Naturally, the conversation shifted to Poole, and Livers’ reaction to seeing his best friend rocket to national fame overnight. At the time, Livers said he could never imagine being in Poole’s situation, insisting he works better out of the media spotlight.

“I think when you go through life, you’re always gonna get overlooked,” Livers said. “I just feel like that’s just how life is.”

Saturday night in Des Moines, those roles suddenly reversed. This time, Livers’ name shot across national airwaves after posterizing Florida’s Andrew Nembhard to help send the Wolverines to the Sweet Sixteen — the zenith of a postseason in which he has averaged 12.0 points per game on 58 percent shooting.

As soon as Michigan opened the doors to its postgame locker room, Livers was surrounded by media members, two and sometimes three-deep. Without the assumption that Livers was amidst the huddle, it would’ve been impossible to locate him.

Across the room, sophomore forward CJ Baird looked on in awe as his often-overlooked teammate found himself in the spotlight. While the media attention was new — even to his teammates — the dunk itself wasn’t.

“I’ve gotten dunked on by him like six or seven times,” Baird said “… It’s great to see it on other people. Cause we get dunked on all the time in practice and finally seeing that on somebody else, it’s good.”

Those highlight-reel moments, though, hadn’t manifested themselves in games. Livers’ athleticism has always been on display, on the defensive end or in pregame warmups, but the confidence to go for it in a game had eluded him.

But as he drove to the rim with just Nembhard in his way, Livers knew this was different. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Poole pointing to the sky, signaling the alley-oop that Livers might normally settle for.

Not this time.

Livers took off from beyond the restricted arc, exploding onto the rim with two hands and only realizing the ball had gone through when Michigan’s bench shot to the air in delight. As Livers returned to the floor, Poole’s calls for a pass had turned to a celebratory flex.

“When you see Isaiah dunk the ball, it looks different from your perspective but we see stuff like that all the time,” Poole said. “And being able to show his athleticism, it’s just amazing and it’s awesome.”

Just eight minutes earlier, Livers had found himself in an all-too-familiar spot, sitting on the bench with his confidence sputtering after a mental lapse that allowed the Gators to finish a lob at the basket. Assistant coach DeAndre Haynes, recognizing Livers’ frustration, instructed him to move on and take the ball to the basket with confidence.

For the rest of the game, he sat for just 1:24, scoring seven points and igniting Michigan to a 64-49 win.

“It’s incredible,” said assistant coach Luke Yaklich. “Isaiah’s worked his tail off and he has heard so many times in film sessions, ‘When are you going to take the ball to the basket hard? And land on two feet and finish at the rim or dunk on somebody.’

“And that moment right there was so fun because it was a culmination of a lot of film sessions and a lot of individual skill development work to get him to that spot.”

As Livers returned to the sideline with 24 seconds left and the win long secured, John Beilein met him with a hug as the Wolverines’ fans behind the bench rose in unison. Eventually, he made his way back to Haynes, who gave him two congratulatory slaps on the chest and one final message.

“I told you, man.”