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In successful start, Isaiah Livers is making good on preseason promise

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There was a common thread in the senior forward’s NBA Draft feedback.

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

After a junior season that was derailed by injuries, a fully healthy Isaiah Livers made a promise in October.

“You’re going to see a different Isaiah,” Livers said during a Zoom call with reporters on Oct. 13.

For the Michigan men’s basketball team, that was the best news the program could’ve possibly heard. Livers opted to return to Ann Arbor for one final season after testing the NBA Draft waters in the spring. He estimated that he met with 28-30 teams during the pre-draft process, all of which gave him valuable feedback with a common denominator: health.

A pair of lower body injuries — both suffered during dunk attempts — held him out of 10 games last year. But so far this season, the Wolverines’ senior captain has looked fully healthy.

The results are telling. Livers is averaging 20 points and five rebounds across 32 minutes per game, albeit against non-conference competition. He’s shooting 62 percent from the field, including a team-best 53-percent clip from behind the arc while no other Wolverine is shooting better than 37 percent from deep. For the first time in his career, he’s posted 20-plus points in consecutive games.

As Livers shot 8-for-11 from the field in Michigan’s 84-65 win over Ball State on Wednesday, all his teammates could do was marvel.

“(Livers) is definitely one of our best players on the team and he definitely had it going tonight,” freshman center Hunter Dickinson said Wednesday. “When he scores, he scores in bunches so we definitely look for him, he scored two or three in a row, keep feeding him. Might as well out there, especially with somebody with as much talent as him. He makes the game easy for all of us. Definitely give him shots if he’s feeling it.”

Added Michigan coach Juwan Howard: “He did a really good job of being patient offensively. Also taking his time and taking advantage of what the defense gave him. Making sure whatever they’d done, it was wrong. He shot the ball with confidence, took the ball to the basket with a certain level of aggression and toughness which I’ve seen since I started coaching him.”

Livers has improved his game in ways that can transform the Wolverines’ offense beyond the box score. He’s worked to become a better ball-handler and passer, which helps ease the burden of Zavier Simpson’s graduation. In Howard’s screen-heavy NBA-style offense, putting the ball in Livers’ hands opens doors that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

Livers has never finished a season with more than 25 assists. But through Michigan’s first three games this season, he’s already racked up eight. Simpson’s graduation has given Livers the opportunity to expand his playmaking duties, and he’s taken advantage of it so far.

According to Michigan assistant coach Saddi Washington, a healthy Livers has always had it in him. Washington is the lone holdover from the John Beilein era, meaning he’s the only coach on Howard’s staff who’s worked with Livers during all four seasons of his career.

If anyone can measure Livers’ improvement, it’s Washington.

“Isaiah has always been really serious about his game and showing all the facets of his game,” Washington said during a Zoom call with reporters Friday. “When he walked in the door as a freshman, he was more of a catch-and-shoot guy. His game has evolved now to being able to play and get a little bit more comfortable playing off the bounce, showing his athleticism at the rim like he’s done the last few games at attacking.

“We’re going to need his whole package. As these young folks say, he’s got to get ‘in his bag’ and we need him to be in his bag pretty often.”

Livers has made good on his preseason promise through three games. And right now, Michigan is reaping the benefits.