Ann Arbor — Caris LeVert is back on the court after suffering a stress fracture in his foot, and he’s looking like himself as he runs up and down the floor with his teammates making plays.
Coach John Beilein said during a Wednesday morning practice that LeVert is showing flashes of his usual self, and that having him back and healthy is a big key for this team.
“He started playing last week, and he’s not himself yet,” Beilein said. “He’s trying to find his spots. I think he looks good right now and may be one of our best rebounders, which wasn’t the case last year. All he needs is to just get his legs to an endurance area where he can go longer.”
Aside from the rapid rise of Nik Stauskas, LeVert was perhaps the biggest surprise on the court for the Wolverines last season. Any setbacks with his health would leave a devastating mark on this team.
“I should be full-go over in Italy,” LeVert said. “I’ve been rehabbing and just trying to get back in game shape.”
Heading to Italy
The team is scheduled to leave on Friday for a 10-day trip to Italy, where they will play four games against professional Italian teams.
Beilein takes his team overseas every four years, with the last trip taking them to Belgium in 2010. He thinks this trip will provide a true test of where this team is at entering the fall.
“It’s been a really busy summer,” he said. “Now we’re ready to get on the plane and continue the growth of this team. We could be overmatched in some games, but it’ll be good for us. I’m always excited to see what the game conditions will be like, who’ll perform, and then it gives you something to come back with.”
Not much was expected from the team that made the trip to Belgium, with Belein joking that they were probably expected to finish at the bottom of the conference that year. But a trip to the NCAA Tournament that season made Beilein a believer in the process.
“Last time we did this trip we came back a better team,” he said. “There’s so many young kids playing, and there’s so many things going on over there that are important to us during the season.”
With the departure of key players, who were youngsters themselves, the team now turns to LeVert, Derrick Walton, Spike Albrecht and Zak Irvin to lead this freshmen-heavy team.
About the role he’s going to assume this year as perhaps Michigan’s best player, LeVert said: “I know I have to take on that leadership role along with Derrick, Spike and Zak. We have six freshmen, so we’re a growing team.”
LeVert will be just one of three upperclassmen on this year’s roster, joining Albrecht and Max Bielfeldt, the team’s lone senior.
“Spike and Caris have to be a big part of it,” Beilein said. “Those guys know nothing but Elite Eight and Final Four appearances, and they know the intangibles it took to get there.”
With a large crop of six freshmen -- with a few expected to play big minutes -- and sophomores Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin prepared to carry a larger load, the Michigan basketball program has the look of a team on the rebound.
But they say that just isn’t so.
“All of us have really high confidence,” Walton said. “We’ve got to bring that together as a unit. I enjoy being a leader. You get a chance to look at younger guys and see they are in the same position you were, so it’s fun helping guys grow.”
Chatman picking it up
One of the biggest stories this season is the arrival of freshman Kameron Chatman. He’s a 6-7, 210-pound guard/forward who will be expected to contribute in a major way.
While Belein’s system can be tough to pick up for the new guys, the coach says Chatman is one of the headier freshmen he’s ever been around.
“I’m probably to quick to say this about people, but his basketball IQ has been outstanding,” Belein said. “He’s picked up some our concepts as quick as anybody we’ve ever had.”
Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.