Michigan has had at least one player leave early for the NBA each of the past three seasons.
There’s a chance that streak could continue as junior forward Isaiah Livers and freshman wing Franz Wagner are apparently considering making the jump.
According to coach Juwan Howard, the two Wolverines are weighing their options and are still in the process of deciding whether they want to test the NBA Draft waters.
When asked if he expected Livers or Wagner to turn pro, Howard didn’t have a definitive answer.
“Right now, Isaiah is evaluating his future,” Howard said during a teleconference call with reporters on Thursday. “He's having time to sit down with his parents as well as evaluating the opportunity to hire an agent to see what's the best decision moving forward for next year, either exploring the NBA level or playing at the University of Michigan.
“I trust that he will confide in me as well as his parents to help him evaluate on what's the best decision for his future. I will do whatever I can to give him my honest opinion, but we haven't had a true discussion yet."
Livers led the Wolverines with 12.9 points per game this past season while shooting 40.2 percent from 3-point range and 95.7 percent at the free-throw line. He was limited to 21 games due to lower-body injuries to his groin, hip and right ankle.
Wagner was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team after averaging 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. While it took time for him to round into form after missing the first four games with a fractured right wrist, he elevated his play down the stretch and averaged 15.9 points and 6.4 rebounds over the final seven games.
“Franz and I had a brief conversation about testing the NBA waters,” Howard said. “We haven't had an in-depth discussion at all yet. But his name has been mentioned as far as a guy who can possibly test the NBA waters. I know he is going to make the best decision for himself and his family. Right now, he is spending time with his brother (Moritz) as well as his parents. I assume that they will have those discussions at the right time.”
Neither Livers or Wagner have appeared in any recent mock drafts by major outlets, and Livers is ranked No. 100 on ESPN’s Top 100 draft prospects list. But both have pro potential and an enticing skill set with their versatility on both ends as well as their ability to handle the ball and shoot from outside.
Under NCAA rules, underclassmen are allowed to hire NCAA-certified agents, go through the pre-draft process and return to school as long as they end the relationship with the agent and withdraw their name from draft consideration by the deadline.
But due to the coronavirus outbreak, the status of future NBA events in flux. There’s uncertainty surrounding the pre-draft process — which typically includes in-person workouts, interviews and testing — and how severely limited it could be.
“With everything now being on hold, it's interesting to see as far as what's on every player's mind,” Howard said. “The NBA is trying to figure out a lot of things when it comes to having an NBA season, NBA camps, NBA Combine, workouts for NBA teams and then, last but not least, the draft. Right now, I'm sure there's a lot on their plate.”
Howard said he’s been sending Livers and Wagner all the information they’ve been receiving from the NBA and the two have been “proactive” throughout the process. Howard declined to say whether Livers or Wagner have submitted applications to the NBA's Undergraduate Advisory Committee, which provides feedback to players on potential draft stock.
The NBA’s early-entry eligibility deadline, as of now, is April 26, so Livers and Wagner still have plenty of time before they must make a decision.
If Livers and Wagner both opted to return, that would put the Wolverines one over the scholarship limit with nine returning players and five incoming recruits. However, Howard isn’t looking that far ahead just yet.
"When that road comes, we will evaluate it and deal with it,” Howard said. “Right now, we have to be patient with where we are right now in dealing with life and death situations. … Basketball is the last thing on all our minds.”