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Center Austin Davis to return to Michigan basketball for fifth season

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Austin Davis’ Senior Night ceremony is going to have to wait another year.

Coach Juwan Howard announced on Wednesday that Davis, a redshirt junior center, was granted a fifth year and will be returning to Michigan next season.

“I gave him the news yesterday,” Howard said. “He was super excited. Just to see the smile on his face, he gave me three hugs and he held me tight, too. That made me know from those hugs, those were the feeling of a guy who is really excited about coming back and being a student-athlete here at the University of Michigan. We are excited to have him back because Austin being the great teammate he is, he's also a joy to coach.

“We're excited to see one of our guys, who is a Michigan man, returning next year to help lead this program next season with the future that we're building here.”

Michigan forward Austin Davis will return for a fifth season in 2020-21.

Davis, who redshirted his freshman year in 2016-17, is set to graduate in the spring and would’ve been able to pursue a grad transfer elsewhere for his final year of eligibility. However, Davis wanted to return and Howard decided he also wanted him back.

As a result, seniors Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske will be the only two players honored before Thursday’s home finale against Nebraska.

Davis’ uncertain future with the program had been discussed with Howard during the season. Following the Feb. 16 win over Indiana, Howard said the two of them met for breakfast earlier in the year and had “a really good conversation.” However, Howard didn’t offer any specifics and didn't provide much clarity about the possibility of Davis earning a fifth year at the time.

That changed on Tuesday when Howard felt it was the “perfect time” to break to the news to Davis one-on-one and extend the opportunity for him to finish his career with the Wolverines.

“On the court, I really admire his work ethic,” Howard said. “I've really appreciated how he has come out each day and approached every day in practice, working to get better as a player, serving to help his teammates. You've seen the growth this season. We've all witnessed it. It was an easy decision for me just knowing that we have a guy that's all-in, loves being here at Michigan and loves playing for the team.”

After redshirting his first year under former coach John Beilein and failing to crack the rotation the past two seasons, Davis has shown significant improvement under Howard. He has turned into a more reliable bench piece, has done a much better job finishing around the rim and defending without fouling, and has been a better fit in Howard's system.

As a backup big, Davis is averaging a career-high 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds over 10.7 minutes per game this season. He’s also shooting 69.6 percent from the field, the best mark among Michigan’s main rotational players.

While some may be surprised by Davis’ elevated game and increased contributions, Howard said it’s something he saw coming dating back to the team’s player development workouts in July.

“He's been patient with his role and when he's been called on, whenever he got the time to go out there and compete, he's always given us great production off the bench,” Howard said. “I've never wavered at any point of not playing him because he's proven that he deserves to play.

“Overall, I've seen a lot of growth offensively. When we've been able to throw the ball into him, he's been extremely patient on the low block and he’s also been effective…I'm just enjoying how he's blossoming in all our eyes.”

With Davis back in the fold and Michigan’s five-man 2020 class on the way, that puts the Wolverines at 14 scholarships for next season, which is one over the allotted limit of 13.

However, that number doesn’t include other 2020 recruits Michigan may still add or commits who may not officially sign during the next signing period. It also doesn’t take into account any roster attrition, like transfers or early pro departures, that may occur after the season.

"I don't like looking forward to next year because we still have a season to play,” Howard said about the scholarship situation. “I just know that Austin Davis will be a part of it. That's all I can tell you right now. That's all I'm comfortable saying at this moment.”

With Teske graduating, Davis will give Michigan an experienced option to replace him, along with sophomore Colin Castleton and incoming freshman Hunter Dickinson.

And according to Teske, the center spot will be “in very good hands” with Davis returning next season.

“I'm proud of the way that Austin has changed his game and really become more confident in himself. It's really shown this year,” Teske said. “When I came in as a freshman, I could see that right away even though he wasn't getting playing time and he was on the scout team. I've seen it since we came in together as freshman. I'm excited to see what he's able to do over the summer and next year.”

Nebraska at Michigan

Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: FS1/950

Records: Nebraska 7-22, 2-16 Big Ten; No. 25 Michigan 18-11, 9-9

Outlook: Michigan's seniors will be honored in a pregame ceremony starting at 6 p.m...Michigan has won three straight in the series and won the first meeting this season, 79-68, on Jan. 28 at Nebraska…The Cornhuskers have lost 14 in a row, with nine of those losses coming by double digits, and are 0-10 on the road.

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins