The Princeton transfer and former four-star recruit who committed to U-M in April hails from an Ivy League school, as did Mike Smith, who transferred to Ann Arbor from Columbia two seasons ago.
But the more striking similarity between Llewellyn, Smith and Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante' Jones, last year's starting point guard, is the desire to make the NCAA tournament and win at the highest level. In essence, that's why Llewellyn chose Michigan.
"It’s been a historically great program and they're used to winning basketball games," Llewellyn said Tuesday on U-M's "Defend the Block" Podcast. "And I wanna get to the tournament as bad as anybody, and this is a team that has experience being there, and they needed some experience at the guard position as well.
"And it definitely helps that Ann Arbor’s only about four-and-a-half hours from my hometown, so my parents and friends and family can come by and watch some more games than my previous years at Princeton and in Virginia for high school as well."
Llewellyn, a Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, native who played high school ball at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Virginia, was challenged by COVID-19 on his path to Michigan.
Despite being in his fourth year of college, the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder has played only two full seasons. The Ivy League was first to shut down at the pandemic's outset in March 2020, and didn't have a 2020-21 season.
Llewellyn still vividly remembers the team meeting where he learned the remaining 2019-20 schedule was canceled. He was having a breakout season, averaging 15.3 points, and the surging Tigers had made the conference tournament.
Llewellyn spent the next several months away from Princeton's campus, taking online classes in Virginia. Though his father, Cordell, who played for Wake Forest and Rhode Island in the '90s, encouraged him where able, he was tested by isolation from family and teammates.
"It was more challenging than people even realize," Llewellyn said. "I mean, I probably went maybe a year and a half without seeing maybe 60% of my team because we weren’t allowed on campus, and only a small amount of people were back on campus in the spring. And I spent that year working at my high school in Virginia as a senior dorm parent at a boarding school and an assistant coach on the basketball team.
"So I was completely away from it all for a year. It felt like I didn’t even go to Princeton at all even though I was taking online courses. Taking Ivy League courses online for the first time in the middle of the pandemic and no season was not an easy thing to do."
Upon returning to New Jersey for 2021-22, Llewellyn felt at times like a freshman learning the ropes again. Yet, he stayed committed to improving his efficiency and raised his field goal percentage from 39.1 to 44.7% last season.
He averaged 15.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting a career-high 38.6% from 3-point range and helping Princeton win the regular season conference title. However, the Tigers fell to Yale in the Ivy League tournament championship, then saw their season end with an NIT first-round loss to VCU.
Llewellyn was agonizingly close to the NCAA tournament. As a top-100 high school recruit, he prioritized education in his college decision. But as a graduate transfer, the desire to play for a March Madness qualifier was top of mind.
That's how coach Juwan Howard and the Wolverines emerged as a suitor. Assistant Howard Eisely is a touted guard coach, too.
"They’ve just been great to me and my family so far and I think I really connected with them well on my visit, and they made me feel really comfortable," Llewellyn said. "They’ve outlined from the start what they need as a program from the guard position, and I could feel that they had belief in me and my abilities, and I think it’s just grown since I first met most of the staff in April. It’s been great getting to know them a bit as well since I’ve been here."
Llewellyn also noticed the success Jones and Smith — he played against the latter as a freshman — had at U-M. And it's hard to miss 7-foot-1 Michigan post Hunter Dickinson, who gives Llewellyn an ally he didn't have at Princeton, which had a shorter center and typically played five-out.
"He's a force offensively and defensively and it's gonna take a lot to stop him," Llewellyn said. "... Now you've got a big guy down there, it's a whole new game and I'm excited to put him in positions to be successful, but he's also gonna put me as well as the rest of the team in positions to be successful because so much focus is gonna be on him when he's down low and stretching the floor as well. So if they collapse, I've been catching catch and shoots from my big men last year, so I'll be ready on the wing."
Catch and shoot is just one of Llewellyn's abilities, though.
"I think I'm a quick guard that can space the floor with my shot and attack the paint," he said, "and get guys involved with my quickness and agility. And I think I can shoot it at all three levels as well, and I'm just excited to get started. And I love taking charges, so watch out."
After Michigan finished last season in the Sweet 16, Llewellyn will look to lead the Wolverines back there and possibly further.
"It hurt so much being right there this year, and even with winning the conference during the regular season and then just falling short in the conference tournament, it really stung," Llewellyn said. "I just wanna be in position where I can be right back where I was last March."
Contact Mason Young: MEYoung@freepress.com Follow him on Twitter: @Mason_Young_0.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Jaelin Llewellyn came to Michigan basketball for this one reason