Growing Up: Caris LeVert

Caris LeVert has had a career spanning three teams: his current club, the one they just faced on Monday and the team he’ll travel to face tomorrow night.

But before all that, he began his basketball journey in football country: Pickerington, Ohio.

The 20th overall pick of the 2016 Draft (originally by Indiana before being sent to Brooklyn over the summer), LeVert even attended a serious football high school – Pickerington Central – that’s produced eight NFL players yet had only one hoopster in 20 years receive a D-I offer for hoops: Caris LeVert, who led the team to its first state title. 

At Michigan, LeVert reached the National Championship game as a freshman and was an All-Big Ten performer in 2014. 

The 7th-year man has come off the bench for the Cavs for about half of his first full year with the squad after being dealt to Cleveland at last year’s Deadline. So far this year, he’s posted six games of 20-plus points – including three straight earlier this month – and went off for 41 in an overtime win in Boston back in late October. 

With the Wine & Gold heading off to the town he once called home – and with the two colleges closest to his heart, Ohio State and Michigan, in the gridiron spotlight this weekend – we sat down with the Cavaliers swingman for today’s episode of Growing Up …

Football was my favorite sport … right up until maybe 8th, 9th grade. I mean, I played backyard football every single day in the summertime. Literally, every single day. 

I played a little quarterback, but … I was really a running back. 

At first … my mom didn’t want me to play. My dad didn’t want me to play. And then after years of begging … they finally let me play. And I gotta admit: I was really good. It was my favorite sport. 

But I just got … too tall. I kept growing. So, I switched positions to receiver, but it just wasn’t the same. When you’re a little kid playing running back, you’re getting the ball every play pretty much. Receiver, the quarterback isn’t as good at that age, so I was blocking a lot. And I was like: This isn’t for me. 

That’s when I started to focus … on basketball. I loved it, but I really, really loved football. 

I definitely have … an athletic family. My dad played college basketball at Capitol University. And my mom never played sports, but she’s tall. She’s 6-1. 

My mom was … a grade school teacher, a principal. She’s retired now. My dad was a graphic designer and he passed when I was 12. I didn’t get his artistic talent. I can’t draw. When I tried to draw, I wasn’t great at it, so I never tried to push it. My brother can draw a little bit. But that was never something I wanted to do. 

My younger brother and I, we’re … 11 months apart. And he was a premature baby, too. He’s like HUGE now. He’s taller than I am, got this full beard. If you saw him, you’d think he was the bigger brother.

We had a lot of … battles growing up. You never want your little brother to beat you at anything. 

The first time I thought I had a chance to reach … the NBA – (I mean, it’s always a dream) – but the first time I thought it was possible, we were playing Duke in my sophomore year in college – Big 10/ACC Challenge. It was sophomore year, and I had a great game. And I think it was the next day and I’m in study hall. And one of my friends called me and said, ‘Yo, have you seen the Draft board?’ I said: ‘I’m in study hall right now.’ And he was like: ‘You’re on it.’ And I said: ‘I’m gonna call you back.’ 

I guess at that point … my whole thinking changed. Before that, I was thinking I could go overseas, make a good career. Before then, I had never known anyone who’d went to the NBA. I mean, I knew Trey Burke a little. He was from Columbus. And Jae’Sean Tate, who’s younger, went to my high school, came after me. He’s like my little brother. So, me making it probably opened his eyes. 

I had a pretty good … growth spurt back then. I was probably 6-2 as a sophomore in high school and I was 6-5 when I left. So, I was 6-5 when I got to Michigan, and then between my sophomore year and junior year of college, I feel like I woke up one day and my strength coach was like: ‘You like a little taller … ‘ 

I DEFINETELY remember … my first in-game dunk. And it’s still probably the best dunk I’ve ever had. 

I was on … a break. I was in high school, AAU – I think it was 17-U, playing for All-Ohio Black. And I was coming down the right wing. It was a 2-one-1 break. Guy was coming up the middle on the right wing, guy coming up on my left. And the guy probably thought I was going to throw a lob. 

I had just started … dunking in practice a couple weeks before. So, I said: ‘I’m gonna try this.’ I’m not thinking about injuries or anything. So, I just went up and I just PUNCHED it on him. And that’s still the best poster I have, to date. For sure. (laughs) On my first real dunk. 

I don’t know … if I’ve ever had one like that. (laughs) It was crazy. It was a packed AAU gym. It went nuts.