The day before the Michigan men’s basketball team upset then-No. 4 Duke, redshirt freshman Laval Lucas-Perry played the part of Blue Devil Kyle Singler on the scout team.
This was normal for Lucas-Perry. Since he was the most talented Wolverine on the scout team, he often played the part of the opposing team’s best player. It was a role he had to play while sitting out a year after transferring from Arizona.
After being outrebounded by 12 against Duke when the two teams played two weeks before, Michigan coach John Beilein added another rim atop the basket to cause more rebounds. Shortly after the drill began, Lucas-Perry swished a high-arcing 3-pointer from the left wing.
Beilein stopped the drill for a moment.
“Laval, you weren’t supposed to make that shot,” he said. “Great shot.”
Minutes later, against Michigan’s starting five on a normal rim, Lucas-Perry hit a step-back, fade-away jumper in the face of freshman guard Stu Douglass.
To those in attendance, it was clear Lucas-Perry was special.
It’s good to be back
Had it not been for the unexpected departure of former Arizona coach Lute Olson, Lucas-Perry probably would still be in Tucson, Ariz., and Michigan would be without one of its top shooters.
After rivals.com ranked him a top-25 point guard as a senior at Flint Powers Catholic High School, Lucas-Perry chose Arizona over Boston College, Iowa, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan. Olson was one of the main reasons he chose to leave his home state.
Lucas-Perry felt comfortable with Olson, the way he ran his program and the success that the Wildcats had had on the court.
Olson took a leave of absence prior to the first game of the season due to undisclosed personal and medical reasons, and with interim coach Kevin O’Neill at the helm, Lucas-Perry decided to transfer.
Lucas-Perry averaged just four points, 1.6 rebounds and .8 assists per game in five games at Arizona.
Last December, Lucas-Perry informed Beilein of his decision to attend Michigan. Due to NCAA regulations, Lucas-Perry had to sit out the rest of last season and the first semester. Sitting on the bench wasn’t easy for him, especially while he watched Michigan finish 10-22.
“365 days is a long time,” Lucas-Perry said.
When the 2008-09 season rolled around, local message boards started heating up with speculation about how Lucas-Perry would fit into the lineup when he became eligible Dec. 20 against Oakland.
With nine games and countless hours of practice already behind them, there was a chance the Wolverines would have a rough time welcoming a new player to the court. But Beilein knew Lucas-Perry would be an integral part of the lineup once he was allowed to play. Earlier this season, he would sometimes include Lucas-Perry in drills with the starting five.
And as Lucas-Perry’s first game grew nearer, Beilein put him into the starting lineup more often in practice. But like any new addition, there was a chance his presence wouldn’t fit with the team’s on-court cohesion.
“We didn’t talk a lot about it, but we did talk about this being a transition and that it was going to be bumpy,” Beilein said. “We were trying to prepare them a little bit, but there is just a great team chemistry going on right now.”
In Lucas-Perry’s first game, it was clear Beilein’s changes paid off.
With wins against UCLA and Duke already in the bag, the excitement surrounding the Michigan men’s basketball program was the highest it has been in a long time. And the addition of Lucas-Perry just added to it.
With 13:13 left in the first half against Oakland, Lucas-Perry rose from Michigan’s bench and walked toward the scorer’s table. With his jersey rolled up at the shoulders, Lucas-Perry looked comfortable and ready to play. With about 40 family members in attendance, he felt like he was back in high school.
“I was ready for this moment,” Lucas-Perry said. “They were all ready for me. All my friends texted me before the game.”
And according to sophomore Manny Harris, there was a lot on the line with Lucas-Perry’s first shot.
“(Junior) DeShawn (Sims) said if (Lucus-Perry) missed his first shot, (Sims) was going to knock (Lucus-Perry) out,” Harris said with a smile.
About a minute after he entered the game, Lucas-Perry made his first impact play as a Wolverine. Playing the wing of the 1-3-1 zone defense, Lucas-Perry drew an offensive foul on Oakland.
And then it happened — Lucas-Perry made the shot that prevented Sims from attacking him.
Lucas-Perry buried a 3-pointer from the left wing, bringing the Michigan faithful to a thunderous cheer.
Seconds later, he hit another. And another.
Before Oakland had a chance to see what happened, Lucas-Perry had sunk three quick 3-pointers and sparked a 17-3 run.
“I’m not surprised,” fifth-year senior C.J. Lee said. “That man can score the ball very easily. He had open looks. We expect him to knock those down every time.”
Just how good is he from behind the arc?
According to Harris, Lucas-Perry’s 4-for-6 performance from downtown against Oakland wasn’t a fluke.
“(He makes) almost 90 percent in practices from behind the arc,” Harris said. “That’s why when he missed one, I kind of smiled, like I was surprised. He’s open, he doesn’t usually do that.”
Lucus-Perry’s undeniable skills were evident in a popular YouTube video of him at Arizona blocking Jarryd Bayless, the No. 11 draft pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. But Lucas-Perry isn’t just a perimeter player.
His size (a strong 6-foot-3, 185 lbs.) will come in handy during Big Ten season — especially playing as a guard, a position where Michigan lacks big men.
In five games, Lucas-Perry has shot 44 percent from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc. He is averaging 11.6 points per game.
Even when Lucas-Perry has struggled making baskets, he has still found a way to score. Despite scoring on just 6 of 18 shots in Michigan’s two Big Ten games, he still scored more than 10 points in both games.
With that type of efficiency, he will likely be the Wolverines’ third-leading scorer behind Harris (18.8) and Sims (16.6) by the end of the season.
Lucas-Perry cemented himself in the Wolverine lineup, by starting for the first time against Illinois. And expect him to remain in the starting five for the rest of the season.
Beilein has said all season that for Michigan to compete in the Big Ten, his team needs to find a consistent third scorer.
Since Lucas-Perry stepped off the practice floor and into the games, Beilein might have found what he has been looking for.