Everyone on Michigan is a two-way street, even offensive-minded Isaiah Livers
Isaiah Livers is honest about the type of player he was earlier in his Michigan career. He has conserved energy in defense to use it in attack. He did not expect, and was not invited, to keep one of the opposing team’s top scorers.
“I used to let people walk past me and then I would block it from the back panel,” said the elder.
This approach wasn’t going to make Livers his favorite job out of college, and he knew it. It was good, because it was not to fly with Juwan Howard as a trainer.
Following Michigan wins 73-57 at Indiana On Saturday, Michigan is the only team in the country to both rank in offense and defense in the nation’s top five. This obviously cannot happen without players who excel at both ends of the pitch.
Several Wolverines like to joke about how even transfer graduates Mike Smith – a great goalscorer from Columbia – embraced defense. But Livers’ defensive improvement over his four-year career is also remarkable.
“He’s what a two-way street player,” Howard said after the victory in Indiana. “I love that he embraced this role and worked in it and worked in it.”
When Howard arrived before last season, Livers was not, in his words, “a guy with a defensive mind.” Livers reminded him of Howard’s first words, on their introductory phone call, about turning Livers into a two-way gamer the moment he left Michigan.
It’s Howard’s approach with every man on the roster, to develop versatile players. He wants guys who can play offense and defense, yes, but also do a variety of things offensively.
The players would have roles but, as assistant coach Phil Martelli said earlier this week, “There would be no specialists.”
Livers, sometimes earlier in his career, was an expert in catch-and-shoot. He did this job well; he’s a career 42% 3-point shooter. Livers, a 6-foot-7 forward, wants to play in the NBA. As good an outside shooter as he was, he realized that he couldn’t do it alone with his shot.
Over the course of his career, he has gradually increased the number of times he has reached the free throw line. He’s almost doubled his assist rate from last season and has increased his rebound rate as well. On Saturday, he scored 16 points and tied a career-high with 10 rebounds.
“He’s grown a lot from year to year,” Howard said. “It’s what you do – game by game, year after year, you find ways to improve yourself. He’s done a great job evaluating himself on the areas he wants to improve in, and he’s worked there.
It required feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable, as Howard says.
“It means when I’m tired and don’t feel like keeping, I can’t take the easy way out,” Livers said. “My brothers are counting on me to stop me, so I have to move my feet, talk, keep my hands active and just play defense. He does all the little things.
While the old way of playing Livers’ defense provided blocks of highlighting, that didn’t always prevent points.
“You are trying to save energy for the offensive end,” he admitted. “I realized that I had more energy to use. Coach Howard, he found out before I even knew it and he made me a two-way player.
With Livers’ full arsenal unlocked, Howard indirectly referred to the fact that this season doesn’t count towards a player’s eligibility.
“I would love to keep it, I don’t know how long it’s going to be,” Howard said. “I don’t know if he will ever come back. Howard laughed. “Give me one more year, Zay!” “