Basketball

LeVert enjoying opportunity at Michigan

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Over the last three seasons, Caris LeVert has won a state high school championship, played in a college national championship game and carved out a possible future in professional basketball.

Not bad for a player who originally committed to Ohio University before his senior year at Pickerington Central because it was his best offer at the time.

When coach John Groce left Ohio to take the same job at Illinois on March 29, 2012, LeVert, fresh off leading the Tigers to their first Division I state title, re-opened his recruiting.

He then signed with Michigan and played in all 33 games a year ago while a Wolverines team led by former Northland star Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. made it to the NCAA final before losing to Louisville 82-76.

This season, the 6-foot-6, 185-pound guard helped Michigan win its first outright Big Ten championship since 1986, averaging 13.4 points and 4.4 rebounds during the regular season. He was voted second-team all-Big Ten by both the coaches and media.

"It's fun playing with this group of guys," LeVert said. "I think I've just had more opportunity this year. Last year we had two great guys in Tim and Trey and they're both in the NBA. We learned how to win games.

"It's been amazing how things have happened the last couple years. We just won the Big Ten (regular-season title), so right now we're headed in the right direction and playing really well."

LeVert is among a handful of men's and women's college players from central Ohio competing in one of the NCAA's postseason tournaments.

Also helping his team to the NCAA tournament from the Big Ten is 2011 Westerville South graduate Traevon Jackson, a junior who starts at guard for Wisconsin and was named honorable mention all-conference by the media. Jackson averages 11 points and was among the Big Ten's assists leaders at 4.6 per game during the regular season.

Michigan lost to Michigan State 69-55 in the Big Ten tournament championship game March 16. The Wolverines take a 25-8 record into the NCAA tournament while Wisconsin, which lost in a semifinal of the Big Ten tournament, is 26-7.

Michigan and Wisconsin both earned No. 2 seeds for the NCAA tournament.

•MID-MAJOR SUCCESS -- Three players who helped their high school programs to unprecedented success also earned chances to play on the national college stage.

J.D. Weatherspoon, a 2010 Northland graduate who was a key player as the Vikings won their first Division I state championship in 2009, has become a steady contributor for Toledo.

Weatherspoon was a backup for two years at Ohio State and sat out the 2012-13 season after transferring.

A 6-6 forward, he averages 11 points and 6.5 rebounds. The Rockets lost to Western Michigan 98-77 on March 15 in the Mid-American Conference championship game to fall to 27-6 and come up short of an NCAA berth.

The Rockets, who will play in the NIT, tied Western Michigan for the MAC-West regular-season title.

"I had to sit out and wait for my chance and it was hard sitting last year, but I improved," said Weatherspoon, who will graduate this fall. "One of the assistants calls me a point forward because I can play any position."

Anthony Jackson, a 2010 Gahanna graduate who as a senior helped the Lions make it to the Division I state tournament for the first time, is a senior and key player for Stony Brook.

A 6-0, 185-pound guard, Jackson helped the Seawolves earn a runner-up finish in the America East Conference. Stony Brook then lost to Albany 69-60 on March 15 in the AEC championship game to fall to 23-10 and settle for a bid to the College Basketball Invitational.

Jackson averaged 12.4 points and had made a team-best 56 3-pointers entering the postseason.

Stony Brook made it to the NIT each of the last two seasons and came up short again this year of what would have been its first NCAA tournament berth.

Jackson, who was OCC-Central Division Player of the Year as a junior in 2008-09 for Westland, helped Gahanna beat Weatherspoon's Northland team 71-45 in a 2010 regional final.

"I think I've come a long way after coming from Columbus," Jackson said. "I was not highly recruited. I really like it (at Stony Brook)."

Jackson's former teammate, 2010 Gahanna graduate Rob Brandenberg, averages 9.5 points for Atlantic 10 runner-up Virginia Commonwealth, which is 26-8 and earned a No. 5 seed for the NCAA tournament.

•WOMEN'S HOOPS MADNESS -- During Asia Taylor's four seasons from 2006-09 at Whetstone, the Braves won a combined 25 games and never posted a winning record.

She's more than made up for that during her time at Louisville.

Although the Cardinals went just 14-18 during her freshman season in 2009-10, they improved to 22-13 and made the NCAA tournament's final 16 in 2010-11 and were 23-10 and made the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2011-12.

She sat out last season with an injury as Louisville lost in the national championship game to Connecticut 93-60, but has helped the Cardinals have another special season this winter.

Now a senior, the 6-1 forward averages 10.8 points and 7.3 rebounds for a Louisville team that was ranked third in the nation and earned an American Athletic Conference runner-up finish.

The Cardinals enter the NCAA tournament at 30-4, with three of their losses to Connecticut. They lost the AAC tournament final to the Huskies 72-52 on March 10.

"I just love being out there," Taylor said. "It's great to be making history and to be a part of something like this. The biggest thing (in the league tournament final) is that we kind of shot ourselves in the foot. (Connecticut) is just a big team, very disciplined."

Kavunaa Edwards, a 2011 Pickerington North graduate who was Division I district Player of the Year as a senior, is a sophomore at Villanova.

A year ago, she helped the Wildcats reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008-09. This season, Villanova went 22-8 during the regular season.

Edwards started 29 of those games, averaging 3.7 points and 5.1 rebounds while posting two double-doubles.

"Before I got here, our record wasn't that good," Edwards said. "I'm not really an offensive threat yet, but I'm fitting in. I've gotten a lot better the last two years, and not just as a basketball player but as a person. I think our team has gotten a lot closer this year."

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