'I love this place': Michigan's Austin Davis grateful to have fifth year granted
Ann Arbor — Austin Davis thought he was going to get the Senior Night treatment.
The pregame video montage. The walk with his parents. The framed jersey. The postgame farewell speech.
That all got put on hold when coach Juwan Howard approached Davis, a redshirt junior center, before Tuesday’s practice and invited him back for his fifth year.
Needless to say, Davis was perfectly fine with the festivities being postponed as he responded by giving Howard three hugs.
"It was really out of the blue,” Davis said after Thursday’s win over Nebraska. “It kind of overtook me. Obviously, I wasn't expecting it right then.”
Neither was Davis’ family. At the beginning of the week, his parents were preparing for the home finale to mark his last game at Crisler Center. At least, that was until Davis called them Tuesday night and told them the news.
"They were all super excited as am I,” Davis said. “My mom shed a couple tears over the phone, but it's really truly a blessing for my whole family. We all love this place and I’m very thankful to be back."
Howard said he met with Davis, who redshirted his freshman year and has a year of eligibility remaining, earlier this season to talk about his future with the program.
During those conversations, Davis said he made it clear he wanted to finish his career in Ann Arbor and he felt they “were on the same page.”
After all, Davis never took an official visit to another college during his recruitment. He committed to Michigan 30 minutes after he received an offer from former coach John Beilein during his junior year at Onsted Community High.
“I love Michigan,” Davis said, “and I wanted to be here if that was possible.”
That possibility turned into a reality due to the impressive growth Davis has displayed throughout the season. According to Howard, Davis accepted his reserve role from the start — even when he was the third big behind senior Jon Teske and sophomore Colin Castleton — and has done whatever has been asked of him.
More importantly, Davis has delivered whenever he has been called upon, especially over the last month. In the past 10 games, Davis is averaging 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds over 12.4 minutes and is shooting 73.7 percent (28-for-38) from the field. That stretch includes five outings where he made four field goals and four times where he didn’t miss a single shot attempt.
While the increased production may have surprised some given Davis’ inconsistent role the past two seasons, it hasn’t been unexpected for his teammates.
“We always knew he was capable of it,” junior guard Eli Brooks said last month. “It was just putting him in the right spot to succeed just like anybody else. He got a shot and he's doing well. I'm just happy to see him happy and him smiling in the locker room, talking with everybody. You can see how much he's talking in the locker room and how outgoing he is now that he's playing well. He feels comfortable with everybody on the team and people are trusting him, so it's good to see that."
Under Howard, Davis has made significant strides on both ends to become a reliable asset. He’s more effective on the block and has done a better job of defending without fouling, an issue that plagued him last season.
For the season, Davis is averaging a career-high five points over 10.7 minutes per game and is shooting 68.9 percent from the field, the highest mark among Michigan’s rotational players.
"That's the Austin we knew,” junior forward Isaiah Livers said last month. “It may have took Coach Howard to come in here and work on his post moves. His post moves are elite. I had to guard that big dude down there before and it is not easy. He's so strong. His footwork and finishing around the rim is probably the best on the team, honestly. He's incredible finishing around the rim."
Due to his perseverance and development, Davis won’t have to worry about finishing his career anywhere else. He will graduate this spring with a degree in movement science. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in the same major next year, with an eye toward physical therapy.
And while he could’ve waited and weighed his grad transfer options after the season, Davis already knew where he wanted to be.
“It's simple, I love this place,” Davis said. “I don't think you can find a better university out there. The professors, students, another year with this team, this basketball staff, I couldn't possibly see how you could turn that down.”
Michigan at Maryland
Tip-off: Noon Sunday, Xfinity Center, College Park, Maryland
Records: No. 25 Michigan 19-11, 10-9 Big Ten; No. 9 Maryland 23-7, 13-6
Outlook: This is the third consecutive meeting where both teams are ranked in the Top 25. … Michigan has won four straight in the series and its last two trips to College Park. … Maryland has lost three of four and is vying for its first regular-season title since joining the Big Ten in 2014-15. Anthony Cowan Jr. (16.2 points) and Jalen Smith (15.4 points and 10.5 rebounds) both rank in the top 10 in the conference in scoring.