LeVert's return spells relief for UM

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — A day after John Beilein told reporters to "back off," Caris LeVert was back on.

LeVert, the senior guard, returned to the court for the first time since Dec. 30 — a span of 11 games — in Michigan's 61-56 victory over No. 18 Purdue on Saturday at Crisler Center.

Beilein, speaking sternly to reporters Friday about LeVert, had said he wasn't ready.

That changed during practice later Friday, and the buzz amped up more than an hour before Saturday's game when Levert was on the court as a full participant in shootaround, wearing his jersey under his warm-up outfit.

"I said, he'll be ready when he's ready," Beilein said Saturday. "He wasn't ready yet until after practice yesterday. Then he said, 'I'm gonna try out tomorrow.'

Beilein still didn't make a decision until after LeVert participated in the second shoot-around, just before tip-off.

He went back to LeVert just before game time to get a final answer.

"I don't care. We're gonna do what we do," Beilein told Levert. "He said, 'I want in. That was a double-check, double-check, double-check."

LeVert didn't start, as Beilein had said he wouldn't his first game back. With just more than 12 minutes left in the first half, he discarded his ChadTough shirt and headed to the scorer's table. He received a huge ovation when he was announced.

LeVert played 11 minutes in the first half, and didn't score, missing a shot and a free throw.

Michigan rallies to take down No. 18 Purdue

He did have five rebounds, though, before sitting out the entire second half.

"As we were warming up, he really felt out of shape and wobbly," Beilein said. "Maybe in an emergency, but right now, I thought it was best to just shut him down.

"It was just enough for him to get ready for the next game."

Michigan has a tough schedule next week, going to Ohio State on Tuesday and Maryland on Sunday.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said his team didn't prepare much for LeVert, knowing that a first game back probably would keep him from being the elite player he is when fully healthy.

The Boilermakers were more concerned about Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, LeVert's replacement in the starting lineup all 11 games he missed with the lower-left leg injury.

"He probably couldn't have played better than Abdur-Rahkman did at our place (25 points on Jan. 7)," Painter said.

He said Purdue was set to put Rapheal Davis on either Abdur-Rahkman or LeVert, whoever was playing.

LeVert's absence has been a sticky situation for Michigan, which could've used him, especially last week in losses to Indiana and Michigan State, but proceeded with extreme caution, given LeVert's possible first-round selection in the NBA draft.

His teammates certainly were eager to see him back.

"He seemed like somebody that was coming off injury," Abdur-Rahkman said. But, "he's one of our captains, he's a leader, having him out there on the floor definitely boosts us. He's a vocal leader."

LeVert, certainly, will want to be more than just a vocal leader moving forward.

He was averaging 17.6 points in his first 14 games, before suffering the injury in the Big Ten opener Dec. 30 at Illinois.

It's been a steady but slow climb back, including countless hours in the pool before he could get back on the court in practice. Still, he's only had three hours of practice since the injury, so Beilein knows he's not yet in game shape.

"He got gassed after that up and down, up and down, up and down," Beilein said of LeVert's Friday practice. "In the halfcourt, if it was me, you and him playing three-on-three at the 'Y,' he'd be really good."

tpaul@gannett.com

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