What NBA prospect Caris LeVert has in common with Kevin Durant

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CHICAGO – Caris LeVert had been immersed in his rehabilitation for a Jones fracture, a foot injury he shared with Kevin Durant, when the Oklahoma City Thunder star’s number flashed on his cell phone. Durant reached out to the former University of Michigan standout two weeks ago, delivering a message to ease his mind for the 2016 NBA draft.

“Stay the course,” LeVert said Durant told him, “because once this rehab is over, you’ll forget all about it.”

The athletic Caris LeVert has point-guard skills. (AP)
The athletic Caris LeVert has point-guard skills. (AP)

Along with the foot injury, LeVert and Durant have the same orthopedic surgeon in New York, Martin O’Malley, and have discussed the road to returning to full strength. LeVert started well in his senior season, averaging 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 15 games, and was projected to be a first-round selection before undergoing surgery on his left foot in March.

Durant had already established himself as a durable and capable player before his Jones fracture, but now the 6-foot-7 LeVert finds himself in the predraft process trying to prove to teams that he will be fine. As LeVert sat for breakfast this week with his foot in a boot and arms dangling around crutches, he vowed to utilize team interviews and medical exams to boost his draft stock.

“It’s been a grueling process since the surgery, staying stress-free, eating well and getting the right amount of sleep,” LeVert told The Vertical. “We have looked at X-rays, and everything has looked up to date. All the doctors are really encouraged by what they see. I heard all of the first-round projections from last year, but right now, I can just speak well in interviews and show myself in X-rays.

“For me, the biggest aspect is to get attention away from the injury. The injury happened, and we corrected it. I want people to know how good of a player I am. I want to show I’ll get healthy and help a team in any way that I can. I feel I have the ability to pass, shoot and dribble at a high level, whether that be at the one [position], two or the three. Whatever I can do to help teams.”

NBA draft projections had listed LeVert as a possible lottery selection a year ago, but he returned for his fourth year under Michigan coach John Beilein. LeVert is listed at No. 43 overall in the most recent mock draft by The Vertical's Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.

“To me, Caris is a point guard,” Beilein said. “He can see over the defense and make reads. As an athlete and wing player, he reminds me a lot of Kent Bazemore. Shooting, passing, defending.

“Caris will excel in the interviews now because of his personality and work ethic. He carried us at times, and the message I’ve given people has been truly positive. He’ll recover from this, and teams will see a special player.”

LeVert is expected to have the boot removed in four weeks and begin basketball activities in mid-June. O’Malley expects LeVert to receive full clearance by mid-July.

“We needed to insert a bigger screw than the first time that he fractured the foot [in 2014],” O’Malley said. “All signs have showed us that, at his frame, he will recover well. He looks great, healing well. He’s tall, but not as tall as Durant. We expect the same results.

“There’s always risk to re-fracture; you can always land on someone’s foot awkwardly. But we have made sure that guys go back to the court fully healed, with stronger balance. Caris will have a long NBA career.”

Lately, LeVert has relied upon the guidance of his doctor, inner circle and Durant, but his confidence has never wavered. “Once this is over with, I’ll be back to brand new and ready to play.”

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