The Wolverine

August 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 26 of 59

AUGUST 2020 THE WOLVERINE 27 M ichigan head coach Juwan Howard waited patiently but anxiously for his star junior, forward Isaiah Livers, to decide whether he'd return for his senior season. Livers declared for the NBA Draft in April but didn't sign with an agent, pro- viding hope he would come back for one last shot at a championship. Livers gave his coach his answer on July 17, informing him he'd be back and putting a huge smile on Howard's face. "It was a great afternoon when Isa- iah stopped into my office and told us he would be returning," Howard said. "The opportunity for Isaiah and his family to take a deep dive and learn as much as they could about professional basketball is a blessing. Now he has even more information to know what he needs to do to reach that next level and fulfill his dreams. "For us, we not only get a skilled and experienced veteran back, we get a true leader and one of the best young men I have met." A groin injury limited Livers to 21 of the team's 30 games last year, and the Wolverines struggled in his ab- sence. His 12.9 points per game tied for the team lead last season, while his 40.2 percentage from three-point range was the best mark on the club among players who competed in at least 11 contests. Livers also averaged a career-best 4.0 rebounds, scored 10 or more points in 14 of his 21 appearances and was nearly automatic from the free throw line, connecting on 44 of 46 attempts for the year. Though he waffled back and forth, Livers was ultimately looking for more of a guarantee before leaving Ann Arbor. Most NBA Draft experts had him ranked in the 90s among eligible players, well outside the 60 who get drafted in two rounds. "It was no secret — my ambition was to go to the NBA. But getting the injury made me think, 'I don't know how I feel about that,'" Livers said. "I heard people say, 'He can do more than that.' And then I realized my business just wasn't finished yet. "The unfinished business I felt was the result of the roller-coaster, up-and-down year I had last year. I never had injuries like that in my life. I just feel like I was on a business trip last year." Livers said there's one area in par- ticular he'd like to improve heading into his last season — ball handling. " T h a t ' s s o m e t h i n g e v e r y o n e knows that I'm capable of, and not something I've shown," he contin- ued. "I'm going to be a go-to guy and going to have to figure out how to keep the ball alive. I have a tendency to pick the ball up, but that's going to be a factor in my game next year … that and being a leader. "I know I've been deemed a leader, but it's also something I've been working on in quarantine time." Telling Howard in person was one of the best parts of the whole experi- ence, Livers noted. He got feedback from several NBA teams and remains optimistic about his professional fu- ture, but the smile on his coach's face proved he'd made the right decision. "There is something about that man that is just super interesting. His passion for his players — no one has ever shown as much passion for me as a player," Livers said. "He is all about it, all energetic. I just felt so welcomed." U-M's ceiling rises considerably with Livers' return and allows How- ard to experiment with his lineups. Junior Brandon Johns could see more time at the five (center) po- sition, while Livers hopes to play some on the wing in addition to power forward. "This team could go so many dif- ferent ways," he said. "We haven't even practiced yet, but especially me playing with those two leaders [graduated seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske] the last three years, learning from Zavier … his passion, how he handles his stuff off the court — he's a real relationship guy, and I feel like I can take a lot of that. "We've got like four or five, maybe six, new faces that we have to join to the team and welcome to the chemis- try. I feel like also what Sleep [Teske] has, he was the ultimate big brother off the court. If I can take both of those leadership models and put them together into one, we can be a really good team because we have a lot of weapons people don't know about, so I'm interested to see [how it goes]." As are the Michigan fans celebrat- ing his return and expecting great things from the senior leader. — Chris Balas MICHIGAN BASKETBALL Isaiah Livers To Return For Senior Season Livers tied for the team lead in scoring (12.9 points per game) and produced the squad's top three-point shooting percentage (40.9) despite being hampered by injuries and missing nine contests last season. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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