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LeVert keeps faith, picked by Pacers in first round

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Caris LeVert long ago lost his spot in the lottery.

He never lost his faith, though, not after foot injuries — and foot surgeries — cut short his junior and senior seasons at Michigan.

And LeVert on Thursday night was taken surprisingly early in the first round of the NBA draft, 20th overall, by the Indiana Pacers, and is expected to be dealt to the Brooklyn Nets.

Many experts had him falling well into the second round, but he'll get guaranteed money, after all. He's projected to earn nearly $3.2 million.

The pick could prove one of the evening's best steals, but it's a risk.

"I'm really blessed to be in this situation," LeVert told reporters Thursday night. "Through all the adversity I went through the past couple of years, I'm lost for words right now to be here."

Coincidentally, the point guard was on site at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, though watching from a suite instead of the green room. He still got to shake commissioner Adam Silver's hand on stage, and celebrated the evening wearing a bold maize-and-blue suit.

His selection comes one day after he penned a long, thoughtful open letter to NBA GMs on The Players Tribune.

"One moment my Dad and I were swapping stories about the (Final Four) basketball games; a few hours later he was gone. Forever. Just like that, with no goodbyes," LeVert wrote on The Players Tribune, recalling the day, when he was a high-school sophomore, that his father, Darryl, died unexpectedly, leaving the teenage LeVert to make the notification calls to friends and family.

"So, yeah, I know all about resiliency.

"A foot injury? A walking boot? That’s not going to hold me down. After everything I’ve been through, I’m well-equipped to overcome challenges, believe me."

LeVert addressed The Players Tribune article, saying he just wanted to get his message out unfiltered.

And who knows? Just maybe, it worked.

"I feel like everybody else was telling my story and speaking for me, so I feel like that was a great opportunity for me to speak for myself," LeVert said. "And I think it got some great reviews from it."

LeVert, 21, a Pickerington, Ohio, native, looked like he'd go down as one of the all-time great Wolverines, but it was an often-frustrating journey to this point.

A left-foot injury ended his junior season in January, and another left-foot injury limited him to two Big Ten games his senior season.

After this past season, he underwent an operation at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Martin O'Malley, who came recommended highly by Kevin Durant. It was his third surgery on his foot in three years.

This one put LeVert in a boot and on crutches for the NBA combine, but he showed up, anyway, to meet NBA GMs and go through the interviews, even if he couldn't show off his skill set.

LeVert wrote on The Players Tribune that his doctor has declared him fully healed after X-rays and CT scans.

"Man, you have no idea," Spike Albrecht, LeVert's longtime teammate at Michigan, told The News. "I couldn't be happier for him and his family. Nobody deserves this more than him after all the adversity he's been through in his life."

Said Michigan coach John Beilein: "We are so happy for Caris. Despite the setbacks the last two years, he never wavered in his belief in himself and his future. Caris' future is so bright and the best is yet to come for that young man.

"He will always have a special place in my heart."

LeVert averaged 10.4 points, 3.53 rebounds 2.67 rebounds for his career, including 16.5 points, 5.33 rebounds and 4.93 assists in 15 games as a senior. Before the injury, he recorded the fourth triple-double in the history of Michigan basketball.

In heading to the Nets, he joins a team that was 21-61 this past season. Brooklyn reportedly will trade forward Thaddeus Young to the Pacers for the 20th pick.

Michigan now has had five first-round picks since 2013. According to ESPN Stats, the Wolverines didn't have any from 2001-12.

"I'm just trying to do whatever it takes," LeVert said. "Next year as a rookie, I know rookies have a tougher role on the team, but I'm ready to fulfill whatever role the team needs me to do. And then for the long haul just get better, be one of the guys for the team.

"I'm ready to work my butt off."

LeVert is the sixth member of Michigan's 2013 national runner-up squad to be drafted, after Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskus.

Albrecht, another member of that team, will be a graduate transfer at Purdue this coming season.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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