Ann Arbor — The wait for junior forward Isaiah Livers’ return rages on.
Michigan coach Juwan Howard said Livers is “definitely improving” but his status remains day-to-day with a left groin injury heading into Wednesday night’s game against Penn State.
According to Howard, the next step for Livers is to go through a complete practice.
“We’re looking forward to Isaiah joining us in practice very soon. That's a part of Isaiah getting closer to joining his teammates on the court,” Howard said Tuesday before the team’s practice. “My philosophy is I like to see our guys practice at least once or twice and hopefully soon Isaiah will get a chance to go out there and compete and see how he feels after a practice.
“When you haven't done anything in the last four to six weeks, you're going to be sore but how do you feel from that injury? That's the key point, the next day.”
Before Michigan’s game at Iowa last Friday, Livers was dressed and participated in the team’s pregame warm-ups for the first time since he suffered the groin injury against Presbyterian on Dec. 21.
But during his radio show on Monday night, Howard said Livers is still “not ready to go” before adding Monday was the first day he was on the court and practiced “a little bit.”
“He wasn't able to practice the entire two hours of practice, but it was good to see that he had a uniform on out there with a basketball in his hands and with his teammates,” Howard said. “I feel sad for him because he's one of those guys that felt like he let his teammates down by not being out there, but you can't control those type of injuries.”
Howard said the team will continue to be “very delicate” with Livers to avoid rushing him back, aggravating the injury and have him miss another extended period of time.
Livers has been sidelined the last five games and the Wolverines (11-6, 2-4 Big Ten) have missed his versatility on both ends of the floor. They have allowed opponents to average 82.5 points over the past four contests, which has led to three losses. They also haven't shot better than 36 percent from 3-point range during that span without Livers, the team's second-leading scorer (13.6 points) who is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc.
If Livers is unable to play against the Nittany Lions, sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. will likely take his place in the starting lineup once again and will have the challenge of guarding Penn State’s leading scorer Lamar Stevens.
“I think it'll be tough, but I think I can handle it,” Johns said. “I think it'll help me grow as a player and as a person.
"He's a really versatile player, so I just can't take it lightly on him.”
As Livers continues to inch closer to a return, senior center Jon Teske said he's been acting like another coach on the bench while Howard said Livers has been growing as a leader and as a player by seeing the game through a different lens.
But through it all, Howard said it has been a “frustrating process” for Livers.
"One of the best things that I've witnessed with Isaiah was that he told me he was vulnerable. He said, 'Coach, this is a tough time for me right now and I'm going through it,'” Howard said. “I thought that was beautiful for Isaiah to share that information with me and feel comfortable with sharing some personal feelings, the experience of an injury and trusting me in that way. My best advice to him — and I'll give it to you the short way — is that every player goes through this at some point in their career whether it's on the high school, collegiate or NBA level.
"Right now, it's you but the best part of this is being around your teammates. That's what's going to help you get through those tough times. Being away from us or hanging in the training room or not coming to the games or not traveling on the road, you start to feel empty and alone and by yourself. When you're around your teammates all the time, now you still feel like you're still a part of the group and he is."
Penn State at Michigan
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Penn State 13-5, 3-4 Big Ten; Michigan 11-6, 2-4
Outlook: Michigan has won eight of nine in the series between the teams and seven straight meetings at Crisler Center…For Penn State, Lamar Stevens leads four players averaging double figures in scoring with 16.6 points. The Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in steals (8.6) and blocks (3.1) per game, and are 0-3 on the road in conference play.