Ann Arbor — In the midst of Michigan’s 10-game win streak and ascension atop the Big Ten standings, Nik Stauskas’ name has been mentioned among the candidates for conference player of the year.
Even freshman Derrick Walton Jr., who scored 13 of the Wolverines’ last 25 points in the final six minutes in the win over Michigan State on Saturday, has had his share of the limelight.
With Glenn Robinson III’s highlight-reel dunks and Mitch McGary’s uncertain status sas he recovers from back surgery, there’s plenty of attention to go around the team.
For Caris LeVert, there hasn’t been an extended stay in the limelight, except for the compliments he got from Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski on his play against the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Stauskas was Big Ten player of the week and Walton was freshman of the week. Sometimes, efforts go without accolades.
Coach John Beilein tried to throw some appreciation LeVert’s way, highlighting his defense — as well as 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists — as one of the keys to the win over then-No. 3 MSU.
LeVert added another good all-around performance, with 14 points, a career-high 11 rebounds, along with three steals and two blocks, drawing praise from Purdue coach Matt Painter.
“He’s a guy who’s just worked. He wasn’t a player early in his high school career and those are some of the best guys to have in college because they don’t have a wall,” Painter said.
“They appreciate things and they’ve had to work for everything.”
“He won a state title in high school and then he didn’t get a lot of time last year. He’s worked on his body and has put a lot of time into his game and you can tell.”
Painter said LeVert, when paired with the other Michigan scorers, provides a quandary for opposing coaches, who have to prioritize who to guard.
“When you put him off those other guys, it’s a pretty good situation for him because (opposing teams) think about Stauskas and Glenn Robinson,” he said. “Your worst defender goes on him and he enjoys that.”
Part of LeVert’s improvement this season is his ability to handle the ball and create his own shot off the dribble. Where he was more of a complementary player last year, he’s added about 15 pounds and can withstand the punishment from going into the lane and absorbing contact.
That allows the Wolverines to have flexibility in reading the defenses and enables them to react accordingly.
“It’s not like I’m dialing up every play we’re running,” Beilen said. “There’s so much residual action that it’s great to have somebody like Caris LeVert, who plays off residual action a lot, much like Glenn did last year.”
Even with the added weight, LeVert (11.9 points and 3.9 rebounds) is looking to be more consistent, as he hasn’t had back-to-back games with double-figure scoring since Duke on Dec. 3. But that’s part of the give-and-take of guarding the other team’s best scorer and trying to work to find shots on the offensive end.
“Early, we saw some of that (fatigue). Another month of weight training and another month of getting used to game speed, he’s doing better with that,” Beilein said. “We still do like to get him rest but that was tough to get him rest the other night.”
Beilein said he still had not received an update on when McGary (back surgery) might begin his rehabilitation.
Though reporters continue to ask about it, Beilein insists that it’s not a huge story.
“It’s not going to be exciting when I say to you guys ‘Oh, he was stretching today.’ This rehab is not some mystery — he’s not going to the hot springs somewhere and lay in a tub,” Beilein joked.
“He’s going to do just some basic things and then get better on it. I don’t think that’s my place to give you an update on his recovery.”
“I don’t think there’s going to be anything that’s earth-shattering that is newsworthy other than he’s begun rehab and we expect to have him before too long.”
Beilein and McGary have not ruled out the possibility that he could return this season, though the nature of the back injury and the scope of his rehab are unknown.