clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Column: Why Wilson and Levert's stories add up to the right decision

Fans can sometimes be hard on players who make a life decision to end their collegiate basketball careers on their own terms. D.J. Wilson and Caris Levert both made that choice, and now they are living what they always dreamed of.

Caris Levert (left) drives on D.J. Wilson (Right) durning a Las Vegas Summer League game on Sunday, July 9.
Twitter

College basketball is at a time where if a player is not leaving for the NBA early, you're talent is viewed as it took too long to develop and is interpreted as lesser than someone who is a couple years younger.

In a conference that hasn't had many players leave early for the NBA Draft over the past 10 years, John Beilein and the Michigan basketball program has seen it happen nine times.

Whether it's leaving before graduation, injury issues, family matters or any other personal reason to make a player jump ship to the next level faster, it's done because they feel it's best for them.

It seems to be that a solid amount of fans of a college university let their own selfish feelings take over and forget that the athletes they root for are young adults trying to make their own way in the world.

In the case of athletes who leave early, their avenue to success is usually by achieving their dream and playing the NBA, well getting a high-end paycheck to go along with it.

For ex-Wolverines that had left early, such as Trey Burke, Mitch McGary, Darius Morris and Manny Harris, this route hasn't worked out that well on the playing side of this situation.

On the other hand, players like Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr. are starting to carve out solid playing careers with the cash following it up.

However, when you look back at these former Michigan players, their stories don't quite add up like the two most recent Wolverines to get drafted.

Enter D. J. Wilson.

Go back to the summer of 2012. Wilson was still at Capital Christian High School, looking to have teams start to see him and figure out who he was. Instead, he missed that summer’s entire recruiting cycle with a stress fracture on his fifth lumbar vertebra in his lower section of his back.

The pain didn't stop, it just continued to linger and hurt.

NCAA Basketball: Houston Baptist at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento, California native missed portions of junior season, and the recruiting build that he started was knocked down to nearly nothing in scout's eyes. Wilson just continued to get healthy, and work towards his goals.

He had a impressive and attention-gathering summer before his senior year that gained some of those recruits back, ultimately the top one being Michigan.

After finally arriving in Ann Arbor, and getting settled into the Beilein system, the injury bug came right back to bite him once again. This time it was Wilson’s knee that kept him sidelined, and made him miss most of the 2014-15 season.

When healthy again for the 2015-16 season, the game didn't come back to the forward all that easy. Wilson averaged just over six minutes per contest, and was benched by a coach's decision 10 times.


It didn't look promising to start the 2016-17 season, when Wilson didn't start the first two games. He was a player with a ton of length, size, athletic ability and unproven talent that no one really knew how to add up to an even answer. It was unpredictable what his future at Michigan would be.

Enter Caris Levert.

Rewind back to the 2012-13 basketball season for Michigan, one that none of their fans can or will forget. The Wolverines made a run to the NCAA Tournament title game, losing to Louisville and coming just short of their first national championship victory since 1989.

Levert was on the team and played in 33 games that season, but only averaged 10.7 minutes and 2.3 points per game throughout the season. He was learning behind a talented starting lineup, and no freshman could've asked for a better experience in his place.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Then came the 2013-14 season, and Levert started to have a role that grew on the team. His playing time went up to 34 minutes per game while putting up 12.9 points per contest, to go along with 4.3 boards and 2.9 assists.

Former Michigan guard Nik Stauskas and forward Robinson were the stars for the Wolverines at the time, but after losing a heartbreaker to Kentucky in the elite eight, the two players elected to go pro. Levert, who was more of a spark plug type player that entire season, finally started to see his shot at being Michigan’s next star player.

Before the 2015-16 season started, the Pickerington, Ohio native was the main talking point around Michigan basketball. The 6-foot-7 guard made the preseason Wooden Award watch list, and the entire country was expecting him to carry another Beilein team to a NCAA Tournament run for the third straight season.

In sports, expectations and hopes can be let down in many different ways, but the most uncontrollable one is injury.

Injury itself, hit Levert harder than anyone else in the Beilein tenure.

Levert was only able to compete in 18 games before fracturing his foot, and putting his season of being a star, to a rather brutal halt.

Most expected him to declare for the NBA draft after his junior season, but the injury forced Levert to think long and hard about it. He decided to stick it out with the Wolverines, and try to raise his draft stock as a senior.

After a summer of regaining his strength and getting back to the level of full health, Levert was ready for the start of the 2015-16 season. He started out the season putting up good numbers for a Michigan team that was stumbling out of the gate, adjusting to new teammates and looks.

On a physical level, everything was fine for Levert. Fine until the Illinois game on Dec. 30, when he had a “lower leg injury” during the game.

Levert’s injury was never given a true diagnosis, and was just known as a lower left leg injury that continued to linger as the season went along. In mid-February, Levert attempted to give it a go and try to play against Purdue.

He lasted 11 minutes and grabbed five rebounds and one assist, but failed to score. Levert didn't return to the game in the second half.

Every game after that was a game-time decision, and he felt some discomfort that same week as the Purdue game when he was at practice.

Then on March 1, 2016, it was made clear that the brief appearance during the Purdue game was the last time Levert would touch the floor as a Wolverine.

He decided to call it quits and allow the injury to heal for his future.

Kentucky v Michigan Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

"After some prayer and talking it over with my family, coach (John) Beilein and the medical staff, we all feel it is best for me to concentrate on getting fully healthy," LeVert said in a U-M press release. "There is still some discomfort that does not allow me to help this team the way I want.”

Levert was left as a player who only played in 33 total college games over his final two seasons at Michigan, with both of them ending to injury, could only hope that a team would give him a chance at the next level.

So the question to be asked is, why compare Wilson and Levert?

They didn't let other people around them make decisions on what ended their college careers.

They made their own decisions on what did, and they were right.

D.J. Wilson finished out the 2016-17 season with an absolute bang, playing well throughout the entire NCAA Tournament and end of the season. Still, due to his injury plagued past, 11 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in 38 contests was a questionable season to enter the NBA Draft.

Wilson decided to enter the draft and wound up becoming the 17th overall pick to the Milwaukee Bucks, which was higher than anyone expected before the draft started.

D.J. Wilson stands at the Milwaukee Bucks center court logo.
D.J. Wilson Facebook

Wilson believed he could make it, even if the fan base that supported him during his time at Michigan didn’t.

Levert’s story stays around the same lines.

The injury-riddled Levert wrote a heartfelt letter to the Players’ Tribune before the draft, and the content was based about overcoming his father's death and getting past his foot injuries that ended his college career.

The Brooklyn Nets believed. They acquired a pick from the Indiana Pacers, and surprised a lot of people by taking Levert 20th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Brooklyn Nets v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

They took a risk on a player that had unproven potential to some extent, and really didn't know how healthy Levert could stay.

His first season has passed, and the Nets know what they drafted.

Last year in the NBA, Levert averaged 8.2 points per game to go along with 3.3 rebounds and just under two assists in 21.7 minutes a contest. For a rookie season, it was nothing to be ashamed of for someone who competed in 57 games after not getting over 35 in two seasons of college to end his career.

Now?

Levert and Wilson found themselves this past Sunday playing against each other in the 2017 NBA Las Vegas Summer League. Not only are they both starting consistently, but they both played as top players for their teams in the summer league.

Levert scored a team-high 18 points. Wilson netted 16 tallies.

Wilson is averaging 14.7 points through four games. Levert is averaging 15.7.

They are both playing over 25 minutes a game and filling out the stat sheet every night. Numbers don't lie, whether it's the summer league or the real deal, both of these ex-Wolverines are playing exceptionally well right now.

Wilson just signed a 3.9 million dollar contract (that could be worth $4.6 million) for at least two guaranteed years. Levert signed a four-year, 7.7 million dollar contract in 2016.

So once again, I come back to the fans of their favorite college sports team. When a player leaves early, has an injury, or whatever the circumstance may be, think about the individual as a person rather than just a player.

In this case, many Michigan fans said Wilson made the wrong move to leave early. Others were upset about Levert not pushing harder to finish his senior season on the court.

While their stories don't look completely identical, Wilson and Levert both made a decision to end their college playing careers on their own terms. Getting to the NBA was a “dream” for both of them, and now they are living it and making upward progress as players.

We all have dreams. At the end of the day, they are living theirs, and there is no wrong doing for that.