Michigan senior forward Isaiah Livers admitted Saturday after U-M’s 68-67 loss to Ohio State the first thing that crossed his mind Thursday night was that he’d never wear the maize and blue uniform again.
Barring what appears to be something highly unexpected, that’s the situation he finds himself in as the Wolverines head into the NCAA Tournament. U-M’s furious rally from 12 down with under five minutes to play was disappointing, but it’s nothing compared to the thought of playing without Livers the rest of the season.
“That was the instant thought I had,” Livers said of his career possibly ending prematurely. “… Very emotional evening yesterday for me and my family, my teammates, my brothers. I can just kind of tell just by walking on it right now …
“[So] that thought did cross my mind. But you never know. This is a world of possibilities. You never know — I could be back out there.”
Still, it was “awful” thinking about missing the postseason, he added. He thought back to last year when seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske had their postseasons cut short by COVID-19, but he leaned on head coach Juwan Howard and his parents for support.
He didn’t have to say a word to Howard after he broke the news, noting his coach did all the talking for him.
“He was the first person I talked to on the phone. That just says a lot about his character that he was there for me, understood,” he said. “It was comforting, especially hearing his voice.”
Livers’ injury was the result of wear and tear and evolved over time, as stress fractures do. He’s been a shell of himself the last several games, going 3-for-13 from long range in his last four, including 0-for-4 against Maryland Thursday before going to the bench after only 15 minutes.
He was running back to play transition defense when he came down wrong on his right foot in the 79-66 victory over Maryland.
“I reaggravated it. I had foot issues kind of halfway through the season, and I’ve been battling,” he said. “I’ve never had a stress fracture, so I feel like I’ve been playing on it the last four to five games. It wasn’t as bad … that last play did re-aggravate it and kind of pushed it to another level.
“It’s not something that just happened one day. A stress fracture is an injury that happens over time. It’s something I was just battling and rehabbing.”
Howard was disappointed when he got the news, but happy they got the MRI before more damage could be done. The injury is unique, doctors told Livers, on the outside of his foot and toe.
The only remedy is rest and rehab.
“At the end of the day, I’m always about health and safety first. A player’s health always come first before any game,” Howard said. “It’s good to know we saw the injury before it could become worse than what it really is at this moment in time.
“At the end of the day, Isaiah is very disappointed he’s not out there to help his teammates. But being on the bench, having his presence, his leadership, his voice — he is helping.”
And don’t count him out completely just yet, Livers insisted. If U-M makes a deep run …
“Me and [trainer] Alex [Wong], since it was so sudden yesterday, haven’t had a chance to talk about or discuss any type of returning date,” he said. “We’re just trying to focus on each day and trying to rehab it as best as possible. They put me in a boot which is comfortable, keeps me off my foot, can reduce the time, but he says it’s one of those things where you’ve just got to fully evaluate and each day, each week you’ve got to figure out what’s going on with it
“… I don’t want people to write me off yet. I’m still in rehab, will work my butt off to get back to this team because I know we’re going to make a run, and I want to be there for it.”