The Wolverine

March 2020 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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98 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2020 " A wasted scholarship." "A disappointment." Michigan redshirt junior center Austin Davis has heard or read those descriptions of him over the last three years — social media, in particular, can be cruel that way, to that point that it's hard not to no- tice, even when you're not looking — and he never ran from it. Admit- tedly, he said in February, he felt like he was letting people down, specifi- cally his teammates and the 900 or so people in his tiny hometown of Onsted, Mich. Many pundits felt he was a reach when former head coach John Beilein offered him a scholarship to join the 2016 class. There was something about him, though, that Beilein just liked — his hands, for sure, but also his desire. The coach told Davis he'd have a shot at his dream offer if he could shed several dozen pounds and prove he could run the floor … so he did. By his senior year, Davis was putting up huge numbers, a difference-maker as a giant among the masses in a league not known for its basketball. By the end of his freshman year at Michigan, there were signs that Beilein's gamble would pay off. "He just gets the ball inside and puts it in," Beilein marveled, not- ing he had high hopes for his 6-10 center. But there's more to the game than just catching and finishing. There's knowing where to go on defense and how to communicate, being aggressive on offense rather than thinking too much, all areas in which Davis struggled. Until now. In five conference games from Feb. 1-16, Davis scored 41 points on an incredible 18-of-21 shooting per- formance, all around the basket. His post moves looked so advanced that former NBA All-Star Dikembe Mu- tombo, on hand to support friend and Michigan head coach Juwan Howard at Northwestern, came into the postgame locker room shouting, "51! 51!" (Davis' number). Davis was a big reason the Wol- verines won four of five in that stretch to make a significant move and get back to 7-7 in conference play. "It's great to have Austin Davis on our side. Austin is wired the right way," Howard praised after U-M got nine points and five rebounds in 13 minutes from the fourth-year center. "He's such a giver … total team guy. He's never tried to go for his numbers or do anything he's not good at. "He comes in with the right at- titude in practice, working hard, buying into the teaching and the developing, and he's going out and having a great carryover game after game. We're seeing a lot of growth. "It's good that when I know [se- nior] Jon [Teske] needs a breather I can go to Austin. He's always go- ing to come in there and do what- ever he can to help the team win with his energy and effort — and toughness." The Athletic recently reported that Davis had scored 93 points on 78 possessions that had ended with him as of Feb. 17, good for 1.192 points per play and among the top one per- cent in the country. He was a spark in U-M outscoring foes 372-311 dur- ing his impressive stretch, and his teammates appreciated it, always quick to greet him when he came to the bench during timeouts. "Big Country is hooping," junior Isaiah Livers said after U-M's win at Northwestern Feb. 12. "That's the Austin we knew. It may have just taken Coach Howard to come in here and work on his post moves. "His post moves are elite. It is not easy guarding him. He's so strong. His … finishing around the rim is probably the best on the team." No probably about it. While Teske has struggled, Davis has picked up the slack. There's a role for both of them, and the deeper bench has led to higher postseason expectations. Though eligible for a fifth year, there's no guarantee Davis will be asked back. Howard has been recruiting as though his senior wouldn't return, and they're already one over the limit for next year with more players likely to sign. "Why'd you have to ask this ques- tion?" Howard said with a sad grin when a reporter recently asked if Davis would be back. "We had a really good conversation [about his future] at a nice breakfast one day. He understands what I'm asking for his role this year and also for the future. And that breakfast was … maybe four to five weeks ago, so it didn't just happen today or last week." The odds are against him, just as they were in ever ending up at Michigan. Not surprisingly, he's re- sponding the same way, at the very least giving his coach something to think about. ❑ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS A Big Leap For 'Big Country' After struggling to contribute earlier in his career, redshirt junior center Austin Davis has put together a string of impressive per- formances off the bench for U-M this season. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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