Isaiah Livers returns to Michigan with more to prove, 'one final ride'

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Isaiah Livers’ journey faced a fork in the road: Leave early to go pro or return to Ann Arbor for one more year.

After declaring for the NBA Draft on March 30, over 100 days passed before the 6-foot-7 forward picked his path and announced on July 17 he was coming back to Michigan for his senior season.

In an interview with Big Ten Network’s Andy Katz, Livers explained there were multiple reasons that led to him withdrawing his name from draft consideration, starting with the fact that there wasn’t a normal pre-draft process.

Isaiah Livers

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Livers wasn’t allowed to work out in front of NBA teams and interactions were limited to virtual interviews over Zoom. The NBA Draft Combine had been postponed indefinitely — with no guarantee it would even take place — and the NCAA’s withdrawal date was pushed back to Aug. 3, which is two weeks after college basketball teams could begin summer activities that include skill instruction and strength and conditioning training.

"It was just so many uncertainties,” Livers said. “It was just Zoom calls. You're not flying to work out and go out to dinner with these guys, shake their hands and, most importantly, look into their eyes. When you look into another person's eyes you can tell what kind of thought they have about you.

“It was weird. You couldn't fly in, work out and I didn't have the season that I wanted to have due to injuries and just everything that was going on. It was real tough. It can really weigh on your mind, but I felt like especially having Coach (Juwan) Howard and the coaching staff, they really helped me during this process trying to stay sane.”

Livers said the draft projection he received from the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee ranged anywhere from late first round to undrafted. But with no postseason, no combine and no pre-draft workouts, he didn’t have an opportunity to improve his standing any further.

“I wanted to hear more from these teams and I got what I needed to hear,” Livers said. “It was real interesting, real good and I feel like I made the right decision."

Livers added he decided to return to Michigan because he had some “unfinished business” and wasn’t completely satisfied with how his junior year played out.

Last season, Livers averaged 14.6 points while shooting 50.9% from the field and 50% from 3-point range over the first 11 games before injuries struck. He suffered lower-body injuries to his groin, hip and right ankle and struggled to stay healthy the rest of the way. He missed 10 of Michigan’s 31 games and had a rough stretch to close out the regular season, averaging 11.6 points on 32.8% shooting (25% on 3-pointers) over the final five contests.

Still, Livers finished the season averaging a team-high 12.9 points, four rebounds and 1.1 assists — all career-high marks — while shooting 40.2% from beyond the arc.

“I felt like I had more to prove,” Livers said. “I've just got to be on that court and stay healthy. I had a freak accident with my groin injury last year and I’m putting in a lot of work now. I'm super healthy. That's all behind now and I'm looking to the future.”

Livers noted the family atmosphere Howard has developed within the program and the trust Howard has built with him helped make his choice a “no-brainer.”

“If I had to come back, it didn't really matter because I was coming back to Coach Howard, a great staff and a great team,” Livers said. “He's so energized, he's a good people person. Not only was he a great player and has a lot of knowledge, he's a great coach and I'm excited to be with him his second year.”

That excitement certainly goes both ways. Without Livers, the Wolverines would’ve had to find a way to replace his versatility, production, outside shooting and winning experience while filling another hole in the starting lineup.

But with Livers back, he’ll get one last shot to boost his stock and show what he’s capable of while leading a Michigan team full of new faces.

“I felt like I had a lot more business to take care of here in Ann Arbor — get my degree, one final ride with Coach Howard and the boys outweighs the other options,” Livers said. “It was the best opportunity (in the) long term for me.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins