With bulked-up role and frame, LeVert shines

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By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 29, 2013

When the Michigan men’s basketball team opened last season, the hope was for then-freshman guard Caris LeVert to redshirt and put more muscle on his then-6-foot-5, 170 pound frame.

It wasn’t until the Wolverines’ seventh regular-season game – at Bradley – that LeVert saw the court for the first time, excluding the team’s exhibition game.

Besides a start against Central Michigan, when he played 32 minutes in late December due to an injury to former Wolverine Tim Hardaway Jr., LeVert only had one other game in the regular season in which he even played more than 16 minutes.

Then, against Syracuse in the national semifinals, LeVert played 21 minutes, scoring eight points, including two 3-pointers. For context, LeVert had seven 3-pointers all of last season.

With Hardaway struggling from the field that game – he shot 4-for-16 from the field – LeVert played arguably his best game of the year.

This year, with Hardaway and Trey Burke gone, and about 25 shots “out there for other people right now,” according to Michigan coach John Beilein, it made sense that LeVert – now 6-foot-6, 185 pounds – would be playing a larger role on the team. After being the most under-utilized freshman last year, LeVert’s classmate Glen Robinson III noted he was looking forward to LeVert playing more minutes this year.

“As sophomores, we’ve been waiting for this moment where we can get a chance to play together for a long time,” Robinson said. “We’ve been talking about this for a year now, and we just couldn’t wait.”

Against Concordia on Tuesday, LeVert looked like a man ready to take advantage of the moment. Playing minutes at both the off-guard and point guard in transition, LeVert scored 16 points in Michigan’s 117-44 victory.

“He, as you can see, (has) got a gear that some people don’t have so we want him to do as much as he can to push the ball on the court if he gets a rebound,” Beilein said regarding the duality of LeVert’s play. “And I like that he’s getting bulked up – he doesn’t look bulked up – but for him, he has put on weight. But if he can go crash as an off-guard, you know just take the ball up the floor, then that really helps us.”

Entering the game after about 3.5 minutes of play, LeVert looked more confident on the floor than he ever did last season. On the court with freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr., LeVert helped spread the floor with three other teammates standing at least 6-foot-6 — sophomore guard Nik Stauskas, redshirt sophomore forward Max Bielfeldt and sophomore forward Glen Robinson III.

With a height advantage, even without the Wolverines’ two starting big men, Michigan was able to play fast and big, creating chances in the half-court and transition offenses.

For LeVert, his first scoring chance came with 13:32 remaining in the half with some nice ball movement by the Wolverines. With the ball at the top of key, freshman forward Zak Irvin found Robinson under the basket. Though he could have taken a quick shot underneath the hoop, he insetad found a wide-open LeVert in the corner, who nailed the shot for his first three points of the game.

For the rest of the first half, as Michigan pulled away from the Cardinals, LeVert and the Wolverines looked at ease.

Playing with the ball in his hands for the first time, LeVert looked confident and relaxed. Using a crossover and his tall, lanky frame, LeVert was able to weave through traffic on several occasions in the first half. To put an exclamation mark on his perfect 6-for-6 shooting display for 14 points in the first stanza, LeVert took a fast-break pass from Stauskas with less than 10 seconds left and hammered home a furious dunk to cap off Michigan’s 46-10 run to end the half.

Playing eight minutes in the second half, LeVert racked up eight assists to complete a double-double of 16 points and 10 assists. In comparison, the Wolverines’ two designated point guards, sophomore Spike Albrecht and Walton, combined for eight assists.

But LeVert didn’t even know he had that many. He was just happy to be making an impact for his team.

“I don’t remember having any of the assists,” LeVert said. “They did a great job —our team of knocking down shots. I really didn’t even know until I came out of the game.”