INDIANAPOLIS — Back when Isaiah Livers and Ohio State’s Kyle Young were both being recruited by Michigan, then-head coach John Beilein left it up to the two of them — first to commit got the spot.
Young, a Massillon, Ohio kid, liked U-M and the program, but he grew up in a state in which leaving for ‘That School Up North’ (TSUN) was an offense punishable by … well something really bad.
Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central product Livers, meanwhile, was being heavily recruited by Michigan State and Tom Izzo, and schools like Butler were also making a serious push. Beilein had to sweat out the possibility of losing both before Livers chose the Wolverines in August 2017.
“Isaiah, he just seemed to be a Michigan kid from the beginning,” Beilein recalled. “He had great grades, was really a school-first guy and an unselfish teammate, almost to a fault a bit. He was always willing to make the extra pass, and we said watching him we thought he had the potential for a great future.
“When we came back and watched him his junior year, all of a sudden we could see him shaping up to be this 6-7 kid with a great body and great athleticism.”
He’s 12 points short of 1,000, and it’s not clear now whether he’ll get there. He played only 15 minutes in a 79-66 win over Maryland, limping noticeably in the first half.
Head coach Juwan Howard danced around the subject a bit in the postgame.
“Isaiah, with the 15 minutes he was out there, he was giving his best to the game and tried to affect the game in any way possible,” Howard said. “Now we’re going to do our best to look on film and see what is best to move forward to help Isaiah be ready for the next game.”
If and when that will come is a big question mark, but the rumblings are ominous.
Michigan will miss him, of course. He’s averaging 13.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, though he hasn’t been the same the last four games. He’s gone 3-for-13 from long range and hasn’t scored more than nine points in any of those contests. He was 0-for-5 vs. the Terps.
He’ll be missed regardless Saturday, but especially if Young plays (which is also a question mark). Livers scored 12 head to head against Young in a 92-87 win over the Buckeyes in Columbus earlier this year, and his defense was outstanding. Young managed only five points on 2-of-5 shooting, also picking up four fouls.
But there’s no guarantee he’ll play in Saturday’s Big Ten semifinal, either. With Young, OSU opened an 18-point halftime lead over Purdue behind Young’s career-high 18 points in the opening 20 minutes. He went 4-for-4 from long range and was a difference-maker.
When he left in the second half after taking a blow to the head — he’d missed time earlier this year in concussion protocol — the Buckeyes had to pull out a win in overtime after a furious Purdue comeback.
“It was a tough one without Kyle, because he was unbelievable in the first half,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “I don’t have an update on him right now. I’m waiting to meet with the doctors.
“We pulled him initially out of an abundance of caution. I think he said he wanted to play and gave us the indication that he was okay. Perhaps, looking back on it, I could have pulled him, and maybe should have done that. But in that moment, I just kind of looked and trusted what he said.”
We’ll know soon enough who plays and who doesn’t, but it certainly adds a twist to the plot of today’s 1:00 p.m. rematch.
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