Despite injuring his lower left leg in December and potentially hurting his future NBA Draft stock, Caris LeVert said he never worried during his recovery.
Monday, two days after returning to action in the Michigan men’s basketball team’s win against Purdue on Saturday, the senior guard addressed the media for the first time since his Dec. 30 injury at Illinois. The left-leg injury sidelined LeVert for 11 games.
The injury occurred late in the second half of Michigan’s game in Champaign when LeVert’s left foot landed on the foot of an Illini player as he drove toward the basket.
“It was definitely a little scary when it happened,” LeVert said. “It was a bang-bang play. It was kind of sore after the game, but, you know, God doesn’t make mistakes. I wasn’t too worried about it, just worried about how I could get better from it.”
Following the injury, Michigan coach John Beilein said LeVert’s road to recovery would be a day-to-day process but never gave specific details regarding the timetable of his return or any information regarding the injury.
Asked if not discussing the details of the injury was a matter of protecting his draft stock, LeVert said it was a program decision he made with Beilein, his mother and the team physician. He did confirm that it was a rest-only recovery and that no operation was performed on his leg.
In his first game back Saturday, LeVert came off the bench for the first time since his freshman season. He logged 11 minutes — all in the first half — took only one field-goal attempt and a free throw, both of which he missed, and collected five rebounds.
LeVert gave a few reasons for his unimpressive performance against Purdue.
“I haven’t played in about six weeks,” LeVert said. “I was a little nervous getting back out there, and just game flow. I really don’t have a great rhythm right now, but it’s coming back to me.”
He did say he was sore afterward, but Michigan’s co-captain said the pain was more from just playing and not specific to his left leg.
“It’s just soreness like with playing,” LeVert said. “If you don’t do something for six weeks, your body’s going to be sore, so I’d say that’s the majority of my soreness.”
LeVert said he does plan to play Tuesday against Ohio State, but that going forward, his playing time would be a game-time decision. Saturday, he didn’t know if he’d be able to play until after the pregame warmups.
Beilein said that, in the future, they’ll reevaluate his ability to play each day.
“Pain is still going to be his guide,” Beilein said. “If he’s feeling any soreness anywhere in his body, right now, we’ll pull him out and wait. This is important that he takes his time in getting back to full strength.”
During his absence, sophomore guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman replaced him in the starting lineup and paced 10 points per game during that time. Meanwhile, junior guard Zak Irvin has begun to find his shooting touch after starting the season off streaky, and junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. has been capable of stepping up when the Wolverines need him most.
Michigan’s play during LeVert’s absence — including wins over then-No. 3 Maryland and then-No. 18 Purdue — make game planning for future opponents difficult given the fluidity that the lineup has now.
“We have these sets of plays run for different people, depending on how they’re playing us,” Beilein said. “It gets to be this huge puzzle. … So now you’re going into a game, and you don’t know if he can play or not. It’s frankly not smooth right now, because we’re just trying to get him back.”
During the recovery, LeVert admitted his lowest point was during the week that Michigan played Indiana and Michigan State. He didn’t get to play those teams last year, either, as he was sidelined following a foot surgery. Still, though, he said he never had any regrets about coming back this year and didn’t get worried about what this year’s injury might do to a potential future NBA career.
“I wasn’t thinking that way the whole time,” LeVert said. “I was thinking positive. You know that’s what I came back for my senior year for, to play in games.”