July 2, 2016
ANN ARBOR — In the days and weeks leading up to the NBA Draft, most predicted outcomes surrounding former Michigan star Caris LeVert were murky at best.
LeVert had fractured his left foot for the second time in two years, showed up to the NBA Combine in a huge brace and wasn’t exactly sure when he could get back on the floor again.
Some scouts who were enamored with his high ceiling just a year earlier were now wondering if he was worth a second-round flyer. Others were simply resigned to the fact that they would not spend a pick on him.
So when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced LeVert’s name just before 10 p.m. on June 23 at the Barclays Center in New York, many were surprised. The player who seemingly risked everything — and appeared to lose plenty — by returning to school for his senior season was a first-round draft pick.
It was an unexpected turn.
Bu not for LeVert.
“I wasn’t really that surprised,” LeVert said this week. “I knew I was going to go somewhere in the 20s. … I thought anywhere from 21-29 I’d hear my name called.”
Why was he so confident about this?
“(No reason) in particular, I just had a feeling that (the 20s) was the range that I had,” he says. “At the end of the day, I kept perspective on everything.
“And I have a great faith in God. I knew, all things considered, I’d be OK.”
LeVert entered the final days of the draft process with nothing but positive thoughts. At that point, he had no other choice.
A 6-foot-7 four-year college player with the versatility to play multiple positions and a spotless off-court track record, the only thing hanging over LeVert’s head was that left foot. The injury happened. Twice it happened. And there wasn’t anything LeVert could do to change that.
So he kept his faith that everything would work out. At this point in his career, all things considered, he was due for a good bounce.
That bounce ultimately came in the form of the Brooklyn Nets, who not only drafted LeVert in the first round — but traded up to do so.
And now, just months after his entire basketball future looked cloudy, LeVert will prepare to sign a contract that will pay him roughly $2.6 million in guaranteed money over the next two years.
Nice guys don’t always finish last.
“I was relieved, I was thankful and I was just ready to be done with that whole process,” LeVert said. “It was tough traveling around every day, trying to rehab my foot every day while I’m flying like every other day. Relieved would be the right word.
“It was a little mentally tiring. But I tried to not let it get to me. I can’t really control what people ask me but I can control how I respond. I tried to keep everything into perspective and try to stay positive.”
At this point, LeVert continues the daily rehabilitation and strength rebuild on his left foot. He’s not rushing the process and he doesn’t have a firm date in mind right now in terms of when he’ll be able to go full-speed on the court. He won’t play in the NBA’s summer league and says he hopes to be back in action “within the next couple months.”
The Nets took a risk on LeVert, no question. He’s had two major foot injuries in two years and actually played through a stress fracture at the end of his sophomore campaign in 2014. But for Brooklyn, the return on investment could be worth it all.
Virtually every scouting report on LeVert began with some form of the following: “Considered a lottery-level talent, but …” For the Nets, the math made sense. Brooklyn’s team foot and ankle specialist performed LeVert’s surgery back in March. So the team wasn’t just reading a report from someone else, they were reading it from their own doctor.
If LeVert’s foot doesn’t heal, the pick’s a wash. But if it does, the upside might give the Nets a steal.
“This is exactly the type of upside play Brooklyn needs to make. LeVert’s long injury history makes him a major gamble, but the Nets don’t control their own first-round pick until 2019,” Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo wrote last month. “He’s a lottery-type talent in a vacuum, and the Nets have to try and extract value from a difficult position. It’s the type of risk they can afford to take. He goes a little bit higher here than most expected, but it makes sense.”
LeVert will surely have some time to reflect on all he’s been through over the past two-plus years down the road. Right now, all his attention is focused on getting healthy.
But when asked if he ever believed he made a mistake by passing on the NBA Draft a year ago to finish his fourth year at Michigan, LeVert doesn’t hesitate.
He wouldn’t change a thing.
“I felt like I made the best decision, especially looking back on it now,” LeVert said. “I graduated. I was still a top 20 pick despite all the injuries. And I got to be a college student for four years. You don’t get those years back.
“I’m thankful that I stayed all four years.”