Summer of labor propels Stauskas and LeVert to next level

Adam Glanzman/Daily
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By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 20, 2013

It could be a coincidence, but the two players that passed on a vacation to stay in Ann Arbor over the summer are the players that have sparked No. 14 Michigan in the first two weeks this season.

Sophomore guards Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas were role players in the Wolverines’ run to the National Championship last year, but the exit of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. meant a more prominent role in the offense this year.

The pair spent the spring and summer semesters in town taking classes, gunning against each other in jump-shot drills and putting in work with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson.

They were joined by upperclassmen Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan for the spring semester, but in the summer term, Stauskas and LeVert had the practice facility to themselves.

While many of their classmates were sleeping in during lazy summer mornings, the sophomores got up for 9 a.m. class, got a quick bite to eat and then spent eight hours at Crisler Center and the Player Development Center.

After arriving from Central Campus, they’d put in two-and-a-half hours of weight lifting before getting something else to eat and heading to an open gym.

The work in the weight room bulked LeVert up from 170 pounds as a freshman to 185 this year — weight that can support a more aggressive driving game as he assumes a role based less on hanging out near the perimeter and more on slashing into the paint to draw attention from the defense.

Stauskas was able to add 16 pounds over the offseason, all muscle, he says. The strength has been palpable the first few games, flying through the defense on multiple occasions without being knocked off his path. In the second half of a loss against Iowa State on Sunday, Stauskas drove through the left side of the paint to fire home a right-handed dunk. The added weight will also serve to make him a more imposing presence defensively.

“It was a tough process from coach Sanderson,” LeVert said. “He pushed us every day in the weight room starting from the time we lost to Louisville up until now, he’s still pushing us. I just got stronger every day.”

The period from noon to 8 p.m. wasn’t all spent on the court or in the weight room. Sometimes they’d be watching television or playing video games on the big screen in the PDC video room. When the day was done, they’d head back to the apartment to watch NBA playoff games.

“When you’re here all day, just me and him, there’s a lot of time to just talk about stuff,” Stauskas said.

Added LeVert: “We were pretty close, but we got a lot closer since then. Every day was a bonding moment, just a lot of fun. Being with him every second of the day from start to finish, it was just great.”

Summer ended, so with the arrival of fall came the arrival of the rest of the team.

In addition to sophomore forwards Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III being the focal point of the Michigan attack, LeVert and Stauskas were clear in their intent — they were ready to lead the team as well.

LeVert was so impressive in the fall that Michigan coach John Beilein scrapped his plans to start two big men, wanting to get LeVert into the starting lineup. LeVert made sure the fans understood why Beilein made the move. He led the team with 17 and 24 points, respectively, in the first two games.

Stauskas, meanwhile, has made himself a more dominant presence on the court. The added weight didn’t take away his deadeye 3-point stroke, and it has made him even more dangerous when dribbling to the hoop and finishing at the rim. He is shooting 53 percent from behind the arc and was the most threatening Wolverine on the floor against the Cyclones with a team-high 20 points.

He leads the team with 17.3 points per game, just ahead of LeVert, who has 15.3. Robinson has been slow out of the gate after an explosive performance in the exhibition opener, while McGary is just returning to action after a back injury.

Summer has passed, and instead of NBA Playoffs viewings, LeVert and Stauskas can instead watch early season NBA action. They can watch Burke and Hardaway on TV, as it becomes more and more likely that they will join those two in the next few years.