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United in Ann Arbor, Reunited in Brooklyn

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Brooklyn Nets/Patrick Dodson

When the Nets traded for Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas, the happiest person in the Nets’ Mexico City hotel that afternoon may have been Caris LeVert. Stauskas and LeVert weren’t just teammates at Michigan, they were friends and roommates in Ann Arbor.

"Yeah obviously (i'm excited). We had some good moments in Michigan,” said LeVert. “That's my guy, so I can't wait until he gets in the rhythm of the line-up and play in the game."

Now, after two weeks together in Brooklyn, the two are getting used to playing with each other again, even sharing neighboring lockers at Barclays Center. For Stauskas, the reunion is particularly sweet. He and Okafor were persona non grata in Philly, afterthoughts, non-persons.

So far, Stauskas has shown the Nets some of the same skills he displayed at Michigan, which earned him Big 10 Player of the Year honors in 2014 and a lottery pick (No. 8) in that year’s draft. In 75 minutes over five games, 30 more than he played in Philadelphia, he’s shot a torrid 52.2 percent from three and averaged nearly 10 points a game. He even set a Nets record for most three’s in a debut: five on December 15.

“First class organization,” Stauskas told the Nets’ Tom Dowd. “I love it here.”

LeVert talked to Staukas even before he arrived in Brooklyn. Right after the trade, the two had a brief conversation on what to expect with the Nets, Staukas then practicing in Philadelphia, LeVert, then playing in Mexico City. College buddies renewing old acquaintances.

They told Dowd about first impressions of the other.

“He’s Canadian, so they’re a little different up there,” said LeVert. “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.”

“Skin and bones when he came in,” noted 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.

They bonded early in Ann Arbor and on a team that got to the national championship game, losing to Louisville. The roster included the two Nets as well as Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, the latter two now with the Knicks.

It was when Hardaway and Burke got drafted that June that the two decided to make a pact. Now roommates, the two decided to stay on campus and work, work, work .... alone together.

“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.”

Now, it’s still about skill work, Stauskas told Dowd, this time with the Nets coaching staff.

“I think the thing that I enjoy most is how seriously they take skill development,” said Staukas. “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.”

The two haven’t played a lot together on the Nets, about 50 minutes in five games. So far, their plus/minus is basically even. As well they did in Ann Arbor, the two think they can make some noise together again, this time in Brooklyn.