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LeVert coming back: 'My heart was here at Michigan'

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Caris LeVert

Ann Arbor — According to the Michigan mantra, those who stay will be champions.

Caris LeVert already has won a Big Ten championship, but he's coming back to try to get another.

And Michigan is glad to have him back.

LeVert, who was projected to be a fringe first-round pick in the NBA draft, announced Tuesday he will return for his senior year with the Wolverines.

"I went back and forth a couple times for various reasons," LeVert said. "At the end of the day, my heart was here at Michigan."

Part of the decision was based on having some unfinished business. He missed the final 14 games of last season because of a foot fracture and watched from the bench as UM finished 16-16 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his career. Michigan also was passed over for the NIT.

Another key was the uncertainty about his draft status. He applied for a second evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee to gauge his standing. LeVert didn't reveal the details of that assessment, but it's clear he didn't want to risk missing out on the first round and the guaranteed contract that goes with it.

"At the end of the day, I didn't think it was beneficial for me to go if I was going to be a second-round pick. For other people, maybe that fits their description, but for me I didn't think it was a good decision," he said. "I'm super young and if I came back it wouldn't really hurt me, and we didn't finish the season like I would have liked."

LeVert relayed his decision to coach John Beilein on Monday night and Beilein was happy to have his best player back on a loaded roster that only lost Max Bielfeldt to graduation.

"I told him yesterday evening and he was pretty excited," LeVert said. "He gave me a hug and made me call Mrs. Beilein as well, so that was pretty funny."

Beilein was not at LeVert's announcement because he had recruiting commitments. With LeVert returning, the Wolverines are out of scholarships, but they are still wooing elite wing Jaylen Brown and four-star standout point guard Kenny Williams.

"We love coaching Caris and are excited he has decided to come back for his final season," Beilein said in a released statement. "His injury last season was unfortunate, but he never wavered in his commitment as a leader, a student or with his rehabilitation.

"Caris is a special person both on and off the court and we are proud of what he has accomplished. The best is yet to come for a young man like Caris LeVert."

Michigan had lost five underclassmen to the NBA in the previous two years, so getting LeVert, who averaged 14.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists — leading the team in all three categories at the time of his injury — back is a welcome change.

LeVert admitted that he's dreamed of playing in the NBA but didn't mind putting off the dream for another year, to finish school and to take another run in the Big Ten and in the NCAA Tournament.

"The NBA is a lifetime dream of mine (but) college is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; you don't get a chance to play alongside your brothers every day," LeVert said. "I have a year left and if I would have left, I may have regretted that decision."

Based off the evaluations and his shortened junior season, LeVert is looking to work on improving his strength and getting more consistency on his jump shot. It's a familiar critique of his game, with a 6-foot-7 frame and weighing just more than 200 pounds.

"My strength, that's still growing every day — and last season I don't think I got a chance to lift my lower body as much as I wanted to because of the foot injury," LeVert said. "This season, I'll have a couple more weeks to do that to develop my legs a little more, like I did after my freshman year.

"The second thing would be to improve my jump shot more, to become a more efficient shooter and do more with less shots and get my percentages up."

LeVert had his walking boot removed last week and hasn't worked his way up to full basketball workouts, given the foot injury. With his return, LeVert indicated he'll look into an insurance policy, which would provide a financial backup in case he suffers another injury.