Michigan head coach John Beilein has a knack for finding lightly regarded recruits and molding them into something more, and perhaps no other player fits that description than shooting guard Caris LeVert. Beilein echoed that statement to the Columbus Dispatch in February 2014:
“I loved that Caris was 17 years old. He had an August birthday, so he was young. He was probably a year younger than kids playing in their senior year. We saw that and saw his length. He’s got a brother who is taller than him who is younger than him. We said he’s got a chance to grow. And he was our type of kid.”
Ranked a lowly two-star recruit and the 11th-best recruit out of Ohio by ESPN, LeVert was committed to Ohio University and then-head coach John Groce after winning a state championship at Pickerington Central as a senior.
After Groce left for Illinois, LeVert was left scrambling and eventually committed to the University of Michigan and Beilein’s then-ranked fifth-best recruiting class in the country. LeVert was listed as 6-4 or 6-5 and around 175 pounds by various recruiting sites at the time, but arrived at Michigan at an even skinnier 162 pounds.
LeVert’s slim frame was reason enough for an unquestioned redshirt season, but Beilein saw his length and defensive ability and decided to play him after sitting out the first six games. LeVert appeared in 33 games, starting one, and averaged 2.3 points, including eight points in Michigan’s 2013 Final Four win over Syracuse.
A promising freshman campaign led to high expectations in his sophomore season when LeVert sprouted to 6-6 and 185 pounds. Those expectations were met, and he averaged 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 42.1 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from the three-point line.
Michigan was eliminated in the Elite Eight that season, and in May, LeVert underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot. It took away precious time in the summer to develop his game further, but he was expected to be ready for the regular season of his junior year.
Preseason All-Big Ten and All-American selections followed LeVert into a season he was expected to be the alpha dog with the departures of Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III to the NBA. LeVert had an up-and-down start to last season, at his best looking like a lottery pick, but at his worst oftentimes forcing the issue.
LeVert injured his left foot again in a January game against Northwestern, and his junior season was lost. He led Michigan in scoring (14.9), rebounds (4.9), assists (3.7), steals (1.7) and minutes (35.8) while shooting 40.5 percent from three last season before injury, which allowed other wings to grow up quickly on the Michigan roster.
LeVert could’ve been a first-round draft pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, as he brings a lot of promising qualities to the NBA level from the shooting-guard position. He has the handle to get to the rim and a deadly jump shot from the perimeter. He now stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 205 pounds, which allows him to play either wing position.
LeVert’s athleticism has improved, and his length allows him to attack passing lanes and gives him potential as a defensive stopper. He’s unselfish and has solid vision as well, but can sometimes be out of control when attacking the rim. These are all areas that can be easily improved. With the youngster yet to turn 21, he still has a lot of untapped potential to reach this season and beyond.
LeVert still has a ways to go on his in-between game, as he struggles from the mid range, shooting only 31.4 percent. He also needs to continue to add weight, despite already putting on 40+ pounds during his time at Michigan. Biggest of all, the swingman needs to prove he can stay healthy during his final senior season, as foot injuries are some of the worst injuries for basketball players.
LeVert remains my top senior prospect heading into the 2015-16 season thanks to the combination of skill, versatility and potential to grow. With hopefully a season of good health while being a consistent No. 1 option, look for him to become a lottery pick in the upcoming draft.