The Wolverine

April 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 21 of 67

22 THE WOLVERINE APRIL 2021 BY CHRIS BALAS W hen the confetti rained down following Michi- gan's 69-50 win over Michigan State March 4 — a victory that clinched U-M's first outright Big Ten title since 2014 — many players didn't know what to do with themselves. Some gathered for group hugs or found the near- est teammate to mob. Others took turns getting bear hugs from head coach Juwan Howard, while a few even made snow angels in the maize paper that fell from the rafters and accumulated on the gym floor. While Howard grabbed some of the falling paper to save as a mem- ory, senior forward Isaiah Livers glanced into the crowd to share the moment with his family. When he did, he spotted a familiar face sitting in the last row of the lower bowl. Even behind the mask, it was clear former Michigan head coach John Beilein was beaming when Livers extended his arms toward the man who brought him to Ann Arbor four years ago. "I was excited to see him here to- night," Livers said with a grin. Beilein wouldn't have missed it. All the seniors, from Livers and Eli Brooks to fifth-year Austin Davis and even walk-ons like C.J. Baird, were his guys at one point, and this was his proud papa moment. He couldn't have left them in better hands than Howard's, he's acknowl- edged several times since his depar- ture in 2019. Now a Big Ten Network analyst, Beilein has expressed noth- ing but praise for the job Howard's done with his former team, and his work with Livers has been at the top of the list. The senior's contributions go well beyond the normal numbers (13.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game after the Big Ten Tournament) — his team-best 44.6 percent three- point shooting in the regular season opened the floor for his teammates, his defense has improved dramati- cally and he's become the consum- mate team captain with his example. Claiming a championship in col- lege basketball's toughest league was one of Livers' primary goals when he decided to return this year rather than declare for the NBA Draft. He won a Big Ten Tournament title as a freshman and made it to the national championship game as a first-year starter, but he wanted more. It was hard for Livers to put into words what it meant to clinch it with a win over the rival Spartans. "When I was going through the process, one of the top priorities for me was win [the conference] outright and win a national championship," he said prior to the start of the con- ference tournament. "Obviously, one of the other goals of mine when I got back on campus and got to prac- tice with the team … we set goals — outright Big Ten champs, win March Madness. "We're one for three right now, but we've got two more to go. I'm just excited. I can't describe my feelings right now … [but] I want the natty, too." A STUNNING TURN OF EVENTS But life isn't always fair, and the basketball gods had something else in mind. While running back on defense in the Big Ten quarterfinal matchup with Maryland March 12, Livers felt something give in his foot. He limped to the baseline, and while he tried to play through it to start the second half, he would only total 15 minutes in the game, missing the last 15 while watching from the bench. The Wolverines were able to pull out a 79-66 victory without him, but an MRI later that night revealed a stress fracture in his foot. A day later, U-M fought valiantly without Livers but lost its Big Ten semifinal to Ohio State, rallying from 13 down in the final five minutes be- fore falling 68-67. The senior 's sec- ond title was out the window, and his "out indefinitely" status put both his and his team's NCAA chances in peril. His first thought when he got the news was that he might have played his last game in a Michigan uniform. "A very emotional evening for me and my family, my teammates, my brothers," he said. "I can just kind of tell just by walking on it right now [it's not good]. … So that thought did cross my mind. But you never know. "This is a world of possibilities. You never know — I could be back out there." If he isn't, it won't detract from what's been an outstanding ca- reer trajectory. Livers was "only" a three-star prospect and the No. 137 overall player nationally per Rivals. com when he arrived at Michigan from Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central, but Beilein knew he liked him the first time he saw him. Though he was a "bit pudgy" and hadn't yet gone through his growth spurt — he was 6-5, the coach re- called, when he first saw him play, and is now listed at 6-7, 230 pounds — he saw the potential in him as both a shooter and a teammate. But recruiting comes down to de- cisions and timing, and there was plenty for both sides to consider. Beilein also had his eye on Massillon (Ohio) High forward Kyle Young, and Young — now at Ohio State — really liked the Wolverines. Butler and Michigan State, mean- while, were pushing for Livers, and for a while Beilein wasn't sure if he'd land either of them. "We told them both, 'We want one of you. Whoever takes it first, gets it,'" Beilein recalled. "We had them JOY AND PAIN JOY AND PAIN Isaiah Livers Got His Regular-Season Title, But An Injury Leaves The Senior Doubtful For The NCAA Tournament Livers provided great all-around play while leading the Wolverines to the Big Ten regular- season title, ranking second on the team in scoring (13.1 points per game), third in rebounding (6.0 a contest), blocks (17) and steals (13), and fourth in assists (46). However, he suffered a stress injury to his foot and was ruled out indefinitely March 13. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - April 2021