To the chagrin of many Ohio residents, the Buckeye State continues to be a leading contributor to the athletic success of hated rival Michigan. This has been a “problem” for years on the gridiron, as the Wolverines have Heisman Trophy winners in Desmond Howard (Cleveland St. Joseph) and Charles Woodson (Fremont Ross) to thank for that.
As luck would have it, the trend has lately surfaced on the hardwood. Last season’s consensus National Player of the Year, Trey Burke, is from Columbus. He mysteriously wasn’t recruited by Ohio State, mainly because of an early decision to go to Penn State. He later reconsidered and selected Michigan. The rest is history. Their latest import may not have quite the career of Burke but his contribution may potentially be more valuable.
Caris LeVert landed at Michigan not quite in the odd fashion of his former Wolverines’ teammate but in a remarkable reversal of fortune. Like Burke, he wasn’t a highly-sought after recruit. He had a solid junior season and really moved up the ranks with an impressive AAU season. This led to him signing with the Ohio Bobcats. The decision made sense for LeVert and his mother, who would only have to travel an hour to see him play and he had gotten along with head coach John Groce.
His senior season was even better, and LeVert helped lead Pickerington Central to a state championship. At the same time, Groce was leading the Bobcats on a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament, beginning with the No. 13 seed Ohio topping Michigan in the opening round. They eventually fell to North Carolina in overtime, but the win against Michigan immediately catapulted him near the top of the hot coach list as he was chosen to succeed the then recently fired Bruce Weber at Illinois.
Although Groce accepted the new position, LeVert was assured by many that he would receive a phone call from his would be coach, perhaps opening the door for him to eventually land at Illinois. NCAA rules prevented Groce from directly contacting LeVert after he took the job at another school, but an opportunity now presented itself as he was released from his letter of intent shortly after Groce took the job. The phone call never came.
His freshman season in Ann Arbor didn’t produce many points or playing time but the talent was clear. He averaged over 13 and played 34 minutes a game, up from 2.3 and 11 minutes a game last season and worked extremely hard in the summer, arriving at the start of this season with more focus and an additional 27 pounds to his body. His success this season could lead the Wolverines to another date in the Final Four a few weeks from now.