Dear NBA GMs:
My name is Caris LeVert. I’m a six-foot-seven point-slash-shooting guard from Pickerington, Ohio, via the University of Michigan, and there are some things that you should know about me.
You probably heard that I hurt my foot a few months ago. It’s all anyone talks about when my name comes up at this point. There was a surgery, and, for a while, a walking boot. I was the guy on crutches at the combine.
And since I had some foot issues earlier in my college career, doubters have come out in droves. Now lots of people are asking whether I can come back and be the player I was before, whether I’m tough enough to pick myself up and be resilient in the face of adversity.
It’s a strange thing for me to hear, honestly, because I know all about adversity and resiliency. I learned about those things at a young age. Had to. Didn’t have a choice.
When I was 15, my life got turned upside-down.
It was Easter morning in 2010.
The night before, my younger brother, Darryl, and I had gone over to a friend’s house to watch the Final Four games.
When we got home, everything was cool. My mom was out of town, but my dad was there so we talked for a bit before I went to bed.
That would be the last time I’d see him alive.
Eight hours later, my dad was gone.
Darryl was the one who found him. He raced upstairs and woke me up. We were supposed to leave for church around that time, so I had no idea what was going on. I just sat up and ran downstairs with him to check on my father.
Then I saw him. My dad. Lying on the couch. Motionless.
Darryl, who is only 11 months younger than me, was crying. We didn’t know what to do — I mean, we were kids, standing there, alone, our dad not moving, not breathing.
Somehow, though, I kept it together.
I called the police, which wasn’t easy. But the toughest moment, by far, was when the police arrived and officially pronounced that he had passed away.
That hit hard.
That’s . . . final.
My dad was only 46 at the time. He was young … and strong. He could still take me off the dribble at that point, and I never could’ve imagined that he’d be gone so soon. People aren’t supposed to die at 46. But that’s what happened. He’d had a heart attack in the middle of the night. It was completely unexpected. None of it made any sense.
After we found out that he was gone and wouldn’t be coming back, I got in touch with my mom, and we cried together. Somehow, after that, things got even tougher — there was more that I had to handle. I had to contact the rest of my family to break the news.
Imagine calling up aunts and uncles and cousins on Easter, a few hours after discovering that your father had died overnight, and having them answer the phone with joy and happiness in their voices: “Heeeeey, Caris!”
They thought I was calling to say happy Easter, but I had to tell them that my dad had died. And I had to do that without falling apart or breaking down.
I couldn’t even drive at the time. I was a high school sophomore, and there I was, making those calls — one after another. One moment my dad and I were swapping stories about the basketball games; a few hours later he was gone. Forever. Just like that, with no goodbyes.
So, yeah, I know all about resiliency.
A foot injury? A walking boot? That’s not going to hold me down. After everything I’ve been through, I’m well-equipped to overcome challenges, believe me. Actually, wait, don’t believe me. Give me a few more minutes, and let me convince you.
After my dad died, all I wanted to do was work as hard as I possibly could to accomplish all the things that I knew would have made him proud.
My dad pushed me really hard as a kid because he understood that I could be great. He saw the drive that I possessed, and the talent, and he didn’t want to see it go to waste. So he pushed me.
When he passed away, I had to push myself. And I wasn’t going to be denied.
But, let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. It was never easy.
At the time, I wasn’t even on the varsity squad at my school. I was a JV guy.
That changed fast.
I worked harder than I ever had before, and it paid off on the court during my last two years of high school. As a junior, I came out of nowhere and made all-district. My senior year, my team was fortunate enough to win a state championship — the first in school history — and I was named to the all-state team, accomplishing a goal I had set for myself prior to the season.
Even still, I didn’t have it made — far from it.
In fact, no one knew who I was. I wasn’t one of those guys who was easy to see in high school. I wasn’t on TV. I didn’t go to the big AAU tournaments. I wasn’t a YouTube sensation.
Also, I weighed about 165 pounds.
It wasn’t exactly a recipe for recruiting success, and I didn’t get my first college scholarship offer until the second week of my senior year.
It was from Alabama State, and I was so excited, and appreciative, and … humbled when I opened that letter. It was an honor to be recognized for all the hard work I had put in to improve my game.
When I got an offer a week later from Ohio University, it may as well have been Kentucky or Duke. For me, that was big time.
So I signed a letter of intent to play for the Bobcats, and was ready to roll. But that would’ve been too easy.
Next thing I know, the coach who recruited me to Ohio gets the Illinois job. And he wasn’t taking me with him.
There were no hard feelings, and ultimately it worked out for the best because I got to become a Wolverine, but I got the message. He thought I was good enough to play at the mid-major level, but that I probably wouldn’t be able to cut it on a high-major squad.
I filed that one away, and I kept working to get better.
A few weeks later, Michigan rolled through with an offer, and I committed on my visit. But Coach Beilein was straight up with me and said that I’d probably be redshirting my freshman year.
I had other plans.
In practice, I went as hard as I could. And the coaches started to notice. After practice and before practice, and on off days, I played one-on-one with Trey Burke.
It was constant. And those matchups were intense. Neither of us wanted to lose. Most days, we’d play until I beat him. And Trey is not an easy guy to beat at one-on-one. So we played a lot of games — probably hundreds.
We’d even play right before Michigan games.
I remember prior to one game, we were going at it pretty hard and we heard someone yelling down at us from above the court. It was Coach Beilein. He was watching us and had seen enough: “Hey, come on! You guys gotta save your legs. We play in an hour!”
We just laughed. But we stopped playing. I think I was winning, too. Figures!
Before long, I had showed the coaches enough to convince them to burn my redshirt, and I was getting real minutes. By the end of the season, I was playing in the national championship game. I was coming off the bench, but come on, our starting five was Trey, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III.
The following year, I came into my own. I had hoped to compete for sixth man of the year in the Big Ten, but after two games I was starting. I averaged almost 13 points per game, and I led the team in steals. Everything was looking up.
But, again, nothing’s been easy for me. After the season, I had surgery for a stress fracture in my left foot. Halfway through my junior year, I had raised my scoring average to around 15 points, my defense had gotten even better . . . and I hurt my foot again.
I came back for my senior season, to finish what I started, and guess what: I hurt my foot again. This time, though, things have been different. I had surgery with Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. He’s one of the best there is, the same doctor who operated on Kevin Durant’s foot last year. KD and I both had a Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal, and we both got fixed up by the same specialist.
It’s been 13 weeks since the surgery, and my foot is good now. I just got my latest round of X-rays and CT scans back the other day, and Dr. O’Malley told me that I’m fully healed. He’s confident that I’ll be able to come back strong, and, really, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
KD, who, like me, has dealt with some other foot injuries in the past, just withstood an 82 game schedule, plus the postseason. He seems O.K. to me. C.J. McCollum is another guy who had the same injury, and some other foot problems. Seems like he’s doing just fine, too.
So there’s precedent here.
KD reached out to me a few months ago and assured me that Dr. O’Malley would have me feeling like brand new.
And I’m almost there.
What I can’t wait to show the world when I make my NBA debut is a player who can handle, shoot, go hard to the hoop, and defend. I can play as a one, a two, or even a three. My versatility is my greatest asset, and I bring a unique skill set to the court.
If you don’t believe me, check out the tape of the last full game I played this past season prior to getting injured.
It was our first Big Ten game of the year, and I feel it was the best overall game that I’ve played. Twenty-two points, 10 assists, five rebounds. I showed my whole game. I displayed the ability to make shots off the catch, to score off the dribble. I showed that I knew how to get into the lane, and how to get others involved.
We won by 10, on the road, at Illinois … which, it just so happens, is the team I wasn’t good enough to play for a few years earlier.
So, there you go — resilient and with a great memory to boot. What more could you ask for?
Ready to work,
Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this piece, Caris mentioned watching the national championship game the night before his father passed away. It was actually the Final Four. That change appears in the current version of his piece.