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February 25, 2014
Stauskas, LeVert's dedication paying off
Michigan sophomore guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert shared one goal when they decided to stay in Ann Arbor over the summer to work on their games - to become scoring options to replace Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., both of whom departed for the NBA.
Several months later, they've become the latest to blossom under head coach John Beilein. Michigan's offense isn't just on the same level, it's a bit better, and they're a big part of it. Stauskas averages 17 points per game and shoots 44.6 percent from beyond the three-point arc. LeVert is at 13.3 and 41.2, and both are at 81 percent from the line.
Most expected a breakout season from Stauskas. Few though - other than Stauskas - could have predicted LeVert's emergence. Stauskas compared LeVert to former Wolverine and current Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, to a few chuckles.
Nobody's laughing anymore. The comparison is almost uncanny, in fact, from the killer crossover dribble and wiry frame to the long range on his jumper. It's not even a stretch to say LeVert has a better looking, smoother jump shot.
"I think he might have a little Kevin Durant in there, too, though he's only 6-6," Stauskas said Tuesday. "He's done an amazing job the last month elevating his game to another level. It's really showed the work he's put in and how much it's paid off.
"He's done such a great job with ball screens, his success getting in the lane and scoring when he has to, passing the ball when he needs to. He's shooting the ball very well from three, and that's what we need. He's also done a great job defensively on other guards. We can't ask for much more from him."
Nor could Beilein have asked more of each in the offseason. LeVert added 20 pounds, Stauskas 16 (he's now up two more to 210) by working in the weight room. Stauskas has become the go-to option down the stretch and the player Beilein envisioned when the coach recruited him to Michigan.
Some called him the "perfect Beilein recruit." LeVert helped bring out the best in him, he insisted, during ball handling and shooting drills in the summer.
Beilein has taken it from there by putting him in positions to succeed.
"It's a little bit of mindset, but at the same time Coach Beilein started running a lot of plays for me," Stauskas said. "Once the first couple of shots went in, he'd run plays for me one on one, balls screens. Once he specifically runs plays for me, he's not going want me to pass up shots he knows I can make. I try to be aggressive and shots will come off that."
The game has slowed down for both Stauskas and LeVert, and they're getting plenty of help from freshman Derrick Walton, Jr., sophomore Glenn Robinson III and the rest of the supporting cast. When the game's on the line, any one of them could have their number called.
Stauskas, though, has been the hot hand, and he couldn't be in a better position.
"I was it when guys he recruited like Tim, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass," he said. "Those were all guys I felt I could play like. Seeing the success they had, I was confident I could come in here and have an impact.
"I believe Coach Beilein when he said how I'd fit, and I'm happy with the way he runs the offense and that I'm a valuable piece. He's using my skills to the best of their abilities."
So is Stauskas, moving him much closer to his NBA dream.