June 24, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Caris LeVert last put on his Michigan basketball jersey back on Feb. 13. The senior guard had missed the previous 11 games with an undisclosed lower left leg injury and was trying for a return.
He had a lot on the line — not just for a late-season matchup against Purdue, but for his career. Off in the distance, LeVert could see his NBA draft stock hanging in the balance.
Michigan won that game, but LeVert lost. He played 11 scoreless minutes and didn’t like how his fickle left foot felt. He didn’t appear in the second half, opting to return to a familiar seat on the U-M bench.
That was the last college basketball game LeVert played. All told, he missed 35 of a possible 65 games over the last two seasons. Once a projected lottery pick entering his junior year, he drifted off into the void.
That’s why, standing upon a stage in Brooklyn on Thursday night, LeVert tried to figure out how got from then to now.
“I’m lost for words right now to be here,” LeVert told reporters at the NBA draft, wearing a maize and blue suit and a Brooklyn Nets hat.
The surprise was widespread.
Despite outside apprehension over a history of left foot problems — including three surgeries in 22 months — LeVert was selected with the No. 20 overall pick in the draft by the Nets. The selection was made by the Indiana Pacers before being dealt to the Nets for veteran forward Thaddeus Young.
Just like that, LeVert, who was projected to go anywhere from late in the first round to late in the second round, saw months of concern and questions wash away.
“I knew the (Nets) staff really liked me but I didn’t know if they had any first-round picks,” LeVert said. “But I’m blessed to be part of this organization. Blessed to be in a great city, as well. Happy to be here.”
Indeed, LeVert, a Pickerington, Ohio, native, will now call Brooklyn home.
In handing LeVert a three-year contract with two guaranteed years worth roughly $3.2 million, the Nets are banking on that foot being fully healed. Dr. Martin O’Malley, the team’s foot and ankle specialist, is the same doctor who performed LeVert’s most recent foot surgery on March 22.
On Thursday, LeVert told reporters that he’s unlikely to play in NBA Summer League, but noted that “my X-rays and CT scans look good.”
LeVert met with Brooklyn team officials nearly one month ago for interviews, but was unable to workout for team officials.
Now on the roster, he’ll join a collection of guards and wings that include Bojan Bogdanovic, Sean Kilpatrick and Wayne Ellington.
“I’m just trying to do whatever it takes,” LeVert said. “Next year as a rookie, I know rookies have a tougher role on the team, but I’m ready to fulfill whatever role the team needs me to do. And then for the long haul just get better, be one of the guys for the team.”
The Nets are coming off a 21-61 season in 2015-16 and are coached by Kenny Atkinson.
“I’m not really sure what type of role I’ll have,” LeVert said. “Right now it’s still early. But whatever role they give to me, I’ll be ready to fulfill that role.”
Earlier in the week, LeVert penned an open letter addressed to “NBA GMs.” It appeared on The Players’ Tribune and was an effort to quell concerns of those questioning his value in the draft.
LeVert said Thursday he published the letter because “I felt like everybody else was telling my story and speaking for me, so I felt like that was a great opportunity for me to speak for myself.”
Nets GM Sean Marks must have gotten the message. He saw fit to make LeVert part of the extensive rebuilding project in Brooklyn.
“I’m a long-term thinker, a long-term type of guy, always have been,” LeVert said. “I’m just excited. I know it’s a lot of work to be put in right now, but I’m just excited to get to this point.”
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