Niyo: Michigan’s Isaiah Livers on the mend, poised to get NBA career off on right foot

Detroit News

Isaiah Livers graduated from college. Then he graduated from a walking boot.

But the former Michigan standout, who earned his degree in May, knows there’s a bit more standing around to do before his professional career is truly off and running. A bit more than he’d like, obviously.

“It’s really hard for me to just sit here and watch,” Livers admitted Thursday in an interview from Chicago, where the NBA’s annual draft combine is underway. “Because I want to get out there and play. But you know how that goes.”

He certainly does, nearly four months after a stress fracture in his right foot ended Livers’ season — and ultimately his college career — just prior to the Wolverines’ NCAA tournament run.

Michigan’s senior captain, who was enjoying the best season of his college career, then underwent surgery to help the healing process 12 weeks ago, and a checkup with his surgeon, Dr. David Porter at Methodist Sports Medicine Center in Carmel, Indiana, was encouraging.

“He says I’m ahead of schedule,” said Livers, who is targeting a return to 5-on-5 basketball workouts in early September. “Everything looks great. There’s been no setbacks. I’ve been doing everything they said, been very particular about what I’m doing every day in my rehab. My foot feels good right now.”

Better, too, now that it’s out of a walking boot and into a shoe that’s reinforced with a metal plate for now. Livers laughed as he talked about how excited he was to get on a StairMaster for the first time today, the next step after riding a stationary bike and running in the pool.

“I’m able to do a lot more each day,” said Livers, who spent weeks doing shooting drills while seated in a folding chair this spring. “You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Making an impression

You can hear it in voice as well this week in Chicago, where Livers, who turns 23 next month, measured at just under 6-foot-6 — 6-7¼ in shoes — and 231 pounds this week. Still, while dozens of draft hopefuls were on the court competing in scrimmages Thursday, as NBA scouts, coaches and front-office executives looked on, the more important measurements for Livers are being taken in individual meetings with teams.

He interviewed with several NBA teams last spring as he tested the waters before ultimately opting to return for his senior year with the Wolverines. In Chicago this week, Livers says he has talked with Utah, New York, Miami and the Los Angeles Clippers, among others. Many more will follow after the combine, though, as teams want to fly him to their own team facilities for a medical checkup.

In the meantime, Livers says, the interviews have been “super positive.”

“There’s some interest there and that can go a long way, especially when I can’t get on the court and show ’em what I’m capable of right now,” said Livers, the former Michigan Mr. Basketball out of Kalamazoo Central. “Interviews are huge. Presenting, and really telling them about myself, is the key to each conversation.

“The energy’s been great, they’ve been very lively. They all understand my situation. They all know I have a resume, and they know what I can do. It’s no secret.”

Still, it’s a bit of mystery, trying to figure out where he’ll end up. Or even if he’ll be drafted at all.

ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony has Livers going late in the second round — 57th overall to Charlotte — in his most recent mock draft. (Michigan State’s Aaron Henry, who was a late scratch from combine scrimmages and media availability Thursday, is projected to go 43rd to New Orleans in that same ESPN mock draft.)

“But I’m a long-term thinker; I’m not really thinking about short term,” Livers said. “Getting drafted, obviously, is a priority. But playing in the league is my main priority.”

Seeking counsel

He credits the help and encouragement he’s gotten from former coach John Beilein, now a senior adviser for player development with the Pistons, along the way. And he calls Michigan’s Juwan Howard, who coached him the last two seasons in Ann Arbor after nearly 20 years in the NBA as a player and assistant coach, his own personal “cheat code” when it comes to understanding what lies ahead.

“He has a lot of knowledge,” Livers said. “And I used my last years at Michigan to really pick his brain.”

He also has talked at length with his former teammate and close friend, Jordan Poole. A first-round pick by Golden State in 2019, Poole spent parts of his first two pro seasons playing the G League, but he flourished for Steve Kerr and the Warriors after the latest stint this past winter.

“It’s all about getting the trust with that coach first,” Livers said.

But first it’s about getting fully healthy.

“Jordan told me, ‘Don’t rush it,’” Livers said. “‘Everybody has your resume, they know what you can do. They know what you’re capable of, your potential, all that. So there’s no reason to rush back. Make sure you’re 100%.”

When he is, Livers is convinced he can make an NBA roster, and make a difference, initially as a 3-and-D option off the bench. (Come to think of it, how about a reunion with Beilein in Detroit?) Livers shot 43.1% from 3-point range while averaging five attempts per game as a senior. He showed NBA scouts this past season he can shoot off the dribble as well.

He’s a high-IQ player who proved himself as a leader, on and off the court, even in spite of his injuries the last two seasons. And at his size, with an ability to defend multiple positions, that should be enough for Livers to get a foot in the door.

All he needs now is a doctor’s clearance.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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