Beilein has timeline for LeVert return but isn’t talking
Ann Arbor -- For the first time since Caris LeVert went down with a leg injury late last month, Michigan has established a timeline for his return.
Just don't think for a second John Beilein is going to share that timeline with you, the media or his fellow coaches in the Big Ten.
"When you see him out on the court," Beilein said Tuesday, "you'll know what that timeline looks like."
This is almost certain: It won't be Wednesday against Rutgers at home.
Beyond that, it's anybody's guess.
LeVert has missed the last six games with what's only been described vaguely as a lower left-leg injury and not a stress fracture. He's walking pain-free, swimming as part of his rehab, and doing light shooting.
"Caris has had more tests, things continue to go in the right direction, but he is not ready to play yet," Beilein said. "We hope it's very soon, but he is moving in the right direction."
LeVert has not spoken with reporters, other than one with ESPN, since the injury, despite multiple requests from Michigan beat writers.
Beilein said that's in the program's best interest right now.
"I know I would love to have him get in front of you guys, but I think it's best if we just wait till he's about ready to play," Beilein said. "For the first time, we have a timeline that we have established."
Asked if he has a specific game circled, Beilein said no.
Michigan has Big Ten doormat Rutgers on Wednesday, then Penn State in New York on Saturday. Another tough stretch looms next week, with Indiana and Michigan State.
It'd seem logical that Michigan would want LeVert back for the Spartans and Hoosiers, ranked 12th and 19th respectively, but Beilein pointed out that just because LeVert returns doesn't mean it'll be vintage LeVert.
In fact, his first games back are likely to see him play spot minutes, as a reserve. Some of that is for his own good, some of that is so the team, in a rhythm without him, can get reacquainted with the senior captain's presence on the floor.
"We have a certain rhythm right now and the rhythm will change, and sometimes you don't dance as well when the rhythm changes," Beilein said.
"It takes a while to dance again, but that's a good problem to have."
LeVert's prolonged absence could've been a killer for this team, but UM dealt with so much adversity a year ago, it almost seemed like it knew how to handle it this year. And it's gone 4-2 since he's been gone, with big wins over then-No. 3 Maryland and Nebraska.
Could this stretch, where others have learned to step up in LeVert's absence, be a benefit come March, or even sooner?
"Unfortunate circumstances sometimes can bring out the best in other guys," Aubrey Dawkins said. "Guys are getting more comfortable being the primary ball-handler, getting more comfortable taking big-time shots, like Duncan (Robinson) and Zak (Irvin).
"It could have a benefit, especially the next year (when LeVert is gone)."
It's not just one player who's stepped up his game in LeVert's absence. You could point to Robinson, or Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, or Mark Donnal, or even Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr., who've had to become the new leaders, with the seniors, LeVert and Spike Albrecht, out.
"We obviously miss him," Irvin said. "For us to be able to do that (without him) is something special."
LeVert, by all accounts, is staying upbeat during the absence.
Not that you would know if he's up or down, given his calm persona.
"He really doesn't get too high or too low. Even if anything is bothering him, you probably won't be able to tell," Walton said. "I know for a fact he's still really positive about everything. He's just excited to get back.
"I really just can't wait to have him back, honestly."
Rutgers at Michigan
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Rutgers 6-14, 0-7 Big Ten; Michigan 15-5, 5-2
Outlook: Rutgers is bad. Really bad. Its wins are over Rutgers-Newark, Howard, Central Arkansas, Central Connecticut, Fairleigh Dickinson and UMass-Lowell. ... The Scarlet Knights earlier this month lost to Purdue, 107-57. And it wasn't as close as the score sounds. ... Corey Sanders leads Rutgers at 14.1 points per game.