Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas are back together with the Brooklyn Nets
Trade reunites former Michigan teammates
Nik Stauskas’ first impression of Caris LeVert should not surprise anybody, even nearly six years later.
Dude was skinny.
Stauskas is joking – probably – when he says he pegged his new University of Michigan teammate at about 130 pounds, but it may not have been that much of a reach.
“Skin and bones when he came in,” said Stauskas. “For me, it was crazy to see that first year how much he developed. By the time he started his sophomore year, I think he had put on 30 pounds or something like that. To put on 30 pounds while exercising and while running the way he was, it was crazy to see. But I witnessed him take his game to the next level.”
These days, LeVert is a little taller too, even if he’s carrying just over 200 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame. One familiar thing is that he’s once again sharing a locker room with his old college roommate, a hoophead from a hockey hotbed in the Toronto suburbs.
“He’s a fun guy,” said LeVert. “He’s Canadian, so they’re a little different up there. Nik is hilarious because he doesn’t really know anything about anything else besides basketball. That was funny for us coming in because he didn’t really know anything about football and obviously Michigan is a huge football school. He didn’t know anything about football, anything about anything but basketball.”
Stauskas has been reunited with LeVert via the Dec. 7 trade that brought him to Brooklyn along with Jahlil Okafor and a 2019 second-round pick in exchange for forward Trevor Booker.
In the summer of 2012, they were part of a loaded freshman class in Ann Arbor that included two other future NBA players, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary. With Spike Albrecht and Max Bielfeldt, they spent that summer moving in a group through all the orientation routines of acclimating to the college environment.
Less than a year after they arrived at Michigan, they were in the Final Four, playing for the national championship against Louisville. Stauskas started that game, an 82-76 loss, along with Robinson and McGary, plus Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke. LeVert, initially slated for a redshirt season by coach John Beilein, had forced his way into a role with his relentlessness on the practice court and played in 33 games, including the national championship.
With the season and the semester over, LeVert and Stauskas set up shop in Ann Arbor and looked to the future.
“We’re not going to go back home this summer,” said Stauskas. “Me and you, when everyone goes back for April and May and they hang out at home, we’re just going to stay here and keep taking classes and work on our game. That was the first time Caris and I actually lived together. We shared this house. All day every day we were in the gym. We were spending hours with the strength coach together, we were going to classes together. That’s how we started our relationship and became really close with each other.”
“That’s when we got a lot better together,” said LeVert. “I think it was just me and him. We were working out every day with our strength coach then with our coaches. I think that’s when both of us got significantly better.
“Took classes as well. Mainly strength workouts. We were both skinny kids. Skill work as well. But we were up there the whole summer.”
They did their work each day and came home each night to binge on the NBA playoffs. In June, they watched Hardaway and Burke be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. That evening opened up a world of possibilities, and made dreams look like an attainable reality.
“For all of us, for me and Caris, it was like this is actually really possible,” said Stauskas. “Two of our friends that we know very well and that we thought that we could compete with, they were first round picks. They went pretty high in the draft. We all looked at it as motivation. If they can make it, then we can make it. Seeing Tim and Trey go first round, for all of us, we’ve got to work even harder now to get this done. Sure enough over the next couple of years we all made it as well, so that was pretty cool.”
They went on to room together throughout their sophomore year, and saw the payoff from their commitment. Stauskas averaged 17.5 points, shot 44.2 percent from 3-point range, and was named the Big 10 player of the year. LeVert made a huge jump, starting all 37 games, playing 34 minutes per game, averaging 12.9 points on 40 percent 3-point shooting, and earning All-Big 10 First Team honors.
Stauskas turned pro after that season’s postseason run ended in a three-point loss to Kentucky in the Midwest Region final. He was selected eighth overall by Sacramento, then traded to Philadelphia after his rookie season. LeVert stayed at Michigan, but foot injuries limited him to just 33 games over his final two years with the Wolverines.
When LeVert was chosen 20th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, Stauskas was on hand doing television work for the Canadian sports network TSN, and celebrated the occasion with his former teammate that night.
Eighteen months later, they’re back together in Brooklyn, sharing neighboring lockers at Barclays Center and looking forward, again, to the future.
“First class organization,” said Stauskas. “I love it here. I think the thing that I enjoy most is how seriously they take skill development. They’re huge on getting better every day, especially taking care of your body. Over my career I’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of my body, but I think they go above and beyond here before and after practice, making sure you do the little things to keep yourself healthy and mobile. That’s something that’s important, just increase your longevity in this league. That’s something I’m looking to do. I’m happy to be here. Coaching staff is great.
“The system they run here is very free flowing, it gives a lot of us freedom to go out there and play the way we want to. Coach (Kenny Atkinson) preaches as long as we’re working hard that he’s going to give us that freedom. As a player, that’s really all you can ask for, is to have a coach like that. I’m enjoying my time here so far. I’m looking forward to just keep going, keep getting better and getting better relationships with these guys and getting to know them better.”