The Wolverine

January 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2019 BY JOHN BORTON I saiah Livers climbed the moun- tain his freshman season, right along with the rest of the Wol- verines. Together, they set a standard ridiculously tough to match. They notched a Michigan-record 33 wins. They nailed down a second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title, battling to the hardware in Madison Square Garden. They fought through five NCAA Tournament wins as a No. 3 seed, leaving markers at the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four levels. They did everything but plant the flag at the top of the mountain. There's no easy encore, since there's almost nowhere to go but down. Livers, the sophomore swing- man, and all those around him aren't thinking that way. "We're striving to do almost ex- actly what we did last year, with a lit- tle bit different result," he said, amid Michigan's striking 10-0 start. "We go off this culture and philosophy of everything we did last year." It's working. John Beilein's re- vamped Wolverines proved stun- ningly successful out of the gate in the post-Moe Wagner era, pummel- ing North Carolina (84-67) in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and taking down a pair of Big Ten foes before the second week of December. Team-wise, U-M couldn't have asked for a better start. It's further affirmation of what Livers and his classmates — guards Jordan Poole and Eli Brooks — felt on opening night at Crisler Center when their freshman-year banners went up. They were bystanders a year ear- lier, when the 2016-17 squad saw its own achievements lauded. This time around, Livers, Poole and Brooks felt fully engaged. "After we'd won the Big Ten cham- pionship, I told them, when next year comes around, we're going to have banners going up for ourselves," Liv- ers assured. "It was something cool and motivated us all offseason." The motivations haven't slackened. Team-wise, they involve reaching as high as they possibly can in the Big Ten and beyond. For Livers, person- ally, it's growing and improving and adjusting to a much different role. The 2017 Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan started 22 games last season for Beilein's crew. Given the emergence of freshman forward Ig- nas Brazdeikis this season, Livers took on the role as sixth man, playing small forward, power forward and even some at the five spot. He's learning to become a multi- pronged tool in Beilein's construction belt. He's also trusting the master builder with the overall plan. "It's new for me after starting last year," Livers acknowledged. "But I agree with everything Coach B says. It makes sense having some leader- ship coming off the bench. I'm cool with it — no pressure." It's easy to say, but Livers offers the observation with conviction. He's seen what a Beilein team can accom- plish over the course of a season and how all the moving parts can come together. "Coach B tells me every day, 'You never know what's going to happen with the lineup. Anything could hap- pen,'" Livers noted. "He tells me to be ready all the time. I say, 'I've got you, Coach.'" TWEAKS IN THE TOOLBOX The sophomore did his part in Michigan's eye-opener of an early season win at Villanova, the only team the Wolverines couldn't con- quer in last year 's Big Dance. Liv- ers connected on his only two three- point attempts, grabbed a couple of rebounds and made an assist in the Wolverines' 73-46 win. He made more than half (16) of his first 31 three-pointers on the sea- son, averaging 7.2 points and 3.9 re- bounds through U-M's opening 10 games. His 51.6 percent from behind the arc led all Wolverines with more than one attempt. All the while, Livers labored in adjusting to the swirl of change all around him. "It's way different from my role last year," he said. "I started at the four, and it was offensive rebound- ing, rebounding, defense, locking up my man, making open shots. Now I have to create my own shots and cre- ate shots for others. "It's different playing in a ball screen. I've done that since high school. I'm kind of used to it, but the college level is a whole lot different than high school." Beilein stressed Livers' offensive assertiveness as a key factor in his new role. Duncan Robinson came off the bench for the Wolverines plenty last year as a fifth-year se- nior, charged with lighting it up from three-point range and providing a spark. Livers can potentially fill that role, and he's got a green light from the boss to make it happen. "He wants more aggressiveness, assertiveness," Livers said. "I've been doing that a lot more. I'm try- ing to take my defender one-on-one, make good plays, take shots. He said they don't have to be wide-open shots for you to take them. "I don't like to take bad shots. He's not encouraging me to take bad shots. He's just telling me to be more aggressive on my shots. Also, I bring the ball up a lot more and make plays." If there's a mental hurdle regard- ing not stepping onto the court at the start of the game, Livers isn't show- ing it. "I try not to take it that way," he said. "I take it as, I'm going to get my job done, and I'm going to do my THE SIXTH MAN Sophomore Isaiah Livers Is Adapting To A New And Important Role This Season In Michigan's 10-0 start, Livers averaged 21.3 minutes of playing time, 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds a game off the bench. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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