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Player Profile: Once a bit player, Austin Davis will finish career as critical piece in fifth season

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Davis came out of seemingly nowhere to emerge as a pleasant surprise last season.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 16 Indiana at Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Austin Davis, a fifth-year senior center out of Onsted, Michigan, is the player that kicks off our profile series ahead of the 2020-21 season. The season remains fluid amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he is one of the many intriguing pieces the Michigan Wolverines have heading into Juwan Howard’s second season at the helm.

Here’s a look at his career to this point and the role that he will play on the roster this season.

The Story So Far

Davis — an “avid outdoorsman, fisherman, and hunter” as his Michigan profile describes him — was a three-star prospect and the No. 177 player in the country when John Beilein and his staff secured the commitment from him on April 16, 2015. 247Sports’ composite rankings had him as the No. 24 center in the country and the third-ranked player in the state of Michigan behind Josh Jackson (Kansas) and Cassius Winston (Michigan State). He was part of the Wolverines’ No. 31-ranked class (sixth in the Big Ten) in 2016 that included four-star point guard Zavier Simpson, three-star center Jon Teske and three-star shooting guard Ibi Watson.

Davis redshirted his first season at Michigan but contributed as a member of the scout team in practices. Much of his career in Ann Arbor saw him playing less than four minutes per game and typically being a guy that came in during mop-up duty or as a human victory cigar.

Then came Howard, a coach new to the college landscape but had developed a reputation in the NBA as someone who has a Midas touch with big men. That’s not to say that Beilein and his staff were bad at it, but a different voice, a different roster and a fresh start helped fuel what was a breakout season in 2019-20.

Davis played in 24 games for Michigan as one of its key contributors off the bench, averaging 4.9 points per game in just under 11 minutes played on average. In a single season, he played more minutes (256) than the prior two campaigns put together (143). He would also finish the season shooting 69.3 percent from the floor, which easily led the team.

The step forward that Davis took last season was remarkable. While far from one of the team’s stars, there was a buzz in the Crisler Center atmosphere whenever he checked into games and touched the ball down low. Davis with the ball in his hands in the paint drew about the same reaction from the crowd as Nik Stauskas catching the ball at the three-point line did. He was that much of a fan-favorite last season and the enthusiasm with his teammates was palpable as well.

With the redshirt season under his belt, Michigan did not have to extend a fifth season of eligibility to him if it did not want to. They were expected to sign a large recruiting class in 2020 that was going to need all of the spots it could get, right? Despite all of that, Howard allowed Davis to return as one of the veteran leaders in 2020-21 for one last ride.

How he fits in 2020-21

Davis is a throwback, veteran presence at center at the perfect time in the development of Howard’s vision for Michigan. Jon Teske will not be walking through the Crisler Center doors this season, leaving Davis as the elder statesman and in a position to be someone young guys lean on.

“It’s been kind of a gradual rise to that type of (leadership) position,” Davis said in the leadup to the season. “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. 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.”

Michigan has a true freshman center on the roster this year in Hunter Dickinson, a former four-star recruit who will be relied upon to have a bigger impact early in his career than Davis did. He is going to play a prominent role early on, but Davis’ steady hand and minutes similar to what he provided last season is going to be critical.

“We’ve got a great relationship,” Davis said about Dickinson. “We definitely hang out outside of basketball, outside of Crisler here, quite a bit. I think this has been one of the tighter groups of bigs along with Jaron (Faulds).

“Especially us three have been really close this year, just texting back and forth and all those kinds of things. It puts us in a better position to be able to push each other on the court during practices, and when game time rolls around, it’s going to make it all the better to be able to share each other’s successes.”

Assuming he is healthy after offseason shoulder surgery, Davis will probably be in for a bit of an expanded role early on before passing the baton to Dickinson. He likely knows this and has been groomed for that ahead of a season that will truly be his last hurrah at Michigan.

Any step forward that Michigan gets from Davis is gravy at this point. If he can continue to come in and give you 10-15 solid minutes per game, that might be a pretty ideal arrangement that helps set the team up best for success in both the short and long-term.