As the Michigan men’s basketball team made its way out onto the court for its Big Ten semifinal matchup against Ohio State, no player received louder cheers than Isaiah Livers. As fans in attendance cheered from the stands, the Wolverines’ captain extended his hand and waved to them before the start of a top-10 matchup.
But Livers wouldn’t be playing.
Just hours before tip-off, Michigan revealed that Livers had sustained a stress injury in his foot and would remain out of the lineup, indefinitely. Outfitted with a boot, Livers was forced to watch the biggest game of his team’s season from the sidelines.
“It’s not just something that happened one day,” Livers said. “A stress fracture is an injury that happens over time. It was something that I was just battling and we were rehabbing.”
When Livers received the news of his injury, he felt a whirlwind of emotions. Averaging 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per night, Livers returned to Ann Arbor with a vision: winning a national championship. Now, it appears that his senior campaign may not feature the storybook ending he intended.
“I kinda felt like Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, how their season got shortened last year around this time,” Livers said. “You just hate to see it.”
With so many emotions running through his head, there was only one person Livers wanted to speak to:
“Juwan Howard, who really helped me once I got the news, he was the first person I talked to on the phone,” Livers said. “It says a lot about his character, he was there for me, he understood. It was comforting, especially hearing his voice. I had no words. But he did all the talking for me, I didn’t have to speak.”
As the game tipped off in Indianapolis, Livers was replaced in the starting lineup by junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. While Johns performed admirably in relief, the absence of Livers loomed large, especially in a first half that saw the Wolverines put up just 27 points, a season low.
“Obviously, Isaiah’s a great talent, one of the best players in the country and so missing him was obviously gonna be a big hill that we had to climb over, but I think the team did a really good job of next man up,” freshman center Hunter Dickinson said.
While Livers did not touch the floor, he still remained an active and key voice on the sidelines for Michigan.
“At the end of the day, Isaiah is very disappointed he’s not out there to help his teammates,” Howard said. “(But) being on the bench, having his presence, his leadership, his voice, he is helping.”
The Wolverines nearly pulled off a 13-point comeback in the game’s final six minutes, but ultimately lost, 68-67, after graduate guard Mike Smith missed a step-back three at the buzzer. While the loss signifies the end of Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament run, its NCAA Tournament tale is still waiting to be written.
And if Livers has it his way, he’ll be out there to help author it.
“I don’t want people to write me off yet,” Livers said. “Still gonna rehab and work my butt off to get back with this team because I know we’re going to make a run and I’m gonna be there for it.”