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December 31, 2012

Caris LeVert makes a splash in first career start

Even without the student section's normally robust attendance - since the students are scattered across the country on Holiday break - Crisler Arena was nearly jam-packed five minutes before Saturday's game vs. Central Michigan.

And as the announced called of each team's starting lineup, the capacity crowd witnessed something no one has seen in the last 81 games. Junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., nursing an undisclosed ankle injury, was not one of the five Wolverines acknowledged.

Hardaway should be good to go for Thursday's Big Ten opener in Evanston, but his absence from the lineup opened a spot for freshman Caris LeVert to make his first career start.

LeVert, a talented yet undersized guard, seemed to be a lock for a redshirt season when the Wolverines were going through preseason training. But he kept impressing in practice, kept using his long arms and defensive prowess to give Hardaway and sophomore Trey Burke fits in scrimmages.

Slowly, LeVert moved up the rotation, now firmly planted as Hardaway's backup.

"I was really excited to get the start," LeVert said after the game. "I wanted to go out and help my team out as much as possible and give great energy.

"I was a little bit nervous, but it was more excitement than anything else. I hit a few shots, and then I was feeling kind of comfortable about there. Trey was getting me into the right spots, and it just felt natural."

Although just a month ago, it still seemed as though LeVert would not see the court this season - instead, learning and bulking up during a redshirt year - he has quickly adapted to his newfound role on the team.

"I think I have grown in all facets of the game, in the last couple weeks," he said. "But I've probably made the most strides defensively, with all the switching patterns and everything."

LeVert finished the game with career highs in points (nine) and assists (five).

"Caris did really well," Burke said. "He came out and brought a lot of energy to the team. He hit a lot of jump shots we knew he could hit. We have a lot of confidence in him, as a team and as a coaching staff. We know he get 10-12 point, 15-20 points if they leave him open. I told him it was just a matter of confidence, coming into the game like you are still back in high school. Just contribute the way you know you can."

"Caris has had the confidence since this summer, and it's just been about opportunity," added freshman guard Nik Stauskas. "Today, he had that opportunity. And now you can see what he can do. He's proven he can play out there."

Michigan coach John Beilein was pleased at what he saw from the youngster.

"Caris showed he was ready today," Beilein said. "He's got some things to his game (that are multi-dimensional). He shoots the 3, but he can also get into the lane and he sees people."

"A month ago he was a redshirt - now he's in the starting lineup. I loved the way he performed."


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