Now Michigan basketball's most experienced center, Austin Davis steps into the spotlight

Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read

Austin Davis has never started a game for Michigan basketball before.

But the fifth-year senior center is now the most experienced big man on the roster, and just last week, forward Isaiah Livers named Davis as one of the team's five starters if the season began right now.

The Wolverines graduated starting center Jon Teske, and backup center Colin Castleton transferred to Florida during the offseason. That leaves Davis as U-M's only scholarship center with playing experience. And that reality has already forced Davis to adjust how he interacts with his teammates.

More on Davis: He undergoes right shoulder surgery, aiming for early October return

Michigan's Austin Davis scores against Wisconsin's Micah Potter during the first half Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020 at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.
Michigan's Austin Davis scores against Wisconsin's Micah Potter during the first half Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020 at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.

“I can’t point to one specific lightbulb moment, it’s been kind of a gradual rise to that type of (leadership) position," Davis said Tuesday. "I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of great leaders to set the example for me in the past four years of being here, all the way from (Derrick Walton), Zak Irvin and Duncan (Robinson) early on going up through Moe (Wagner) and especially (Zavier Simpson) and Jon (Teske).

"They’ve all been tremendous leaders, they’ve been great examples to try to model some of the ways they’ve led that have shown success.”

[ U-M enters new era. Here's the plan to replace what was lost ]

Michigan will need more from Davis than just leadership, though. Last year's offense featured a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls, which required Teske to both screen and finish at the rim. The Wolverines also fed Teske a steady diet of post-ups.

Davis played in 24 games as the backup center. In 10.2 minutes per game, he averaged 4.9 points on 69.3% shooting and 2.6 rebounds and had a 112.1 offensive efficiency rating, according to Ken Pomeroy. This season, his role and minutes will likely increase. It's why coach Juwan Howard asked Davis to return for a fifth season — something that wasn't guaranteed.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity," Davis said. "I’m extremely thankful for it. My first four years were an incredible experience overall. ... It’s great to be on a team like this, it’s another great group of guys that I know I’m going to be able to enjoy every second of this year, and I’m just extremely thankful and extremely blessed to be around these people everyday and be in this environment.”

It hasn't been an easy offseason for Davis. In April, he had surgery on his right shoulder. Davis admitted that he isn't at 100% yet, but said his shoulder is "feeling great now" and he has returned to the court.

Michigan forward Austin Davis grabs the rebound in the first half against Norfolk State at Crisler Center, Nov. 6, 2018.
Michigan forward Austin Davis grabs the rebound in the first half against Norfolk State at Crisler Center, Nov. 6, 2018.

"Back to full-go," he said. "It’s been a long road to recovery. I’m very thankful for athletic trainer Alex (Wong) and the doctors who worked on me. … It’s unfortunate I had to go through this how I did with my shoulder, but I’m very thankful to have been in a place like this to go through it where I had the resources to support me through that process.”

With the season just over a month away, Davis is all-in on his new role as a veteran. He's helped new players like grad transfer Mike Smith adjust to their new surroundings, and he's taken freshman center Hunter Dickinson under his wing. And he's also made sure to prepare for a bigger on-court role, too.

“I think what jumped out immediately to me is I still need to improve quite a bit on defense, moving my feet," Davis said. "That’s been a weaker area of mine, honestly, for a very long time. Just continue to improve there and try to remain consistent and always remain ready to fill the gap, do what’s needed or what’s asked of me by the team. That’s really the biggest thing on my mind."

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Michigan Wolverines content.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball will lean on Austin Davis' experience at center