When Juwan Howard took a seat at his podium to address the media on Wednesday, there was an unmistakable grin on his face.
Before long, it was evident why. The first-year coach began his press conference by delivering news that redshirt junior center Austin Davis will return for a fifth year with the Michigan men’s basketball team in 2020-21.
“We are excited to have him back because Austin, being the great teammate he is, is also a joy to coach,” Howard told reporters. “He’s shown great leadership throughout this year, he’s also shown a lot of growth on the court as well as in the classroom. We’re excited to make that announcement and to see that one of our guys, who is a Michigan Man, is returning next year to help lead this program next season with the future that we’re building here.”
Howard informed Davis of the news on Tuesday. The brief one-on-one conversation ended in Howard receiving a trio of hugs from Davis, who was initially set to receive a framed jersey at the Wolverines’ senior night ceremony on Thursday.
The news comes in the midst of a breakout season for Davis, whose 70-percent shooting clip is the best of any player in Michigan’s rotation. The Onsted, Mich. native redshirted during the 2016-17 season before playing a total of just 143 minutes over the next two seasons under former coach John Beilein.
But when Howard took over after Beilein’s sudden early-summer exit, he and Davis immediately clicked. Howard played an instrumental role in the development of Bam Adebayo and Hassan Whiteside as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, leading many to wonder how his hiring would affect the Wolverines’ frontcourt.
To find an answer, look no further than Davis.
Davis has played in 22 of Michigan’s 29 games this season, often bringing a spark off the bench in relief of senior center Jon Teske. He’s averaging 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds across 10.7 minutes per game. Though his 55-percent mark at the free throw line remains a pitfall, he’s emerged as one of the team’s most reliable finishers at the rim.
“Austin has been a big punch for us off the bench,” Howard said in January. “He knows the model, and he lives by it, too. I never have to worry about putting him in and he’s not ready. He’s shown it with all the hard work he’s put in at practice and games, being in-tune to what’s happening on the floor, communicating with our guys when they come off a timeout, being a positive leader.
“When a guy is wired the right way, good things happen. And that’s Austin Davis.”
Now, Davis is set to take on an important role in bridging eras in the Wolverines’ frontcourt. With Teske set to graduate in May, Michigan will welcome 7-foot-2 center Hunter Dickinson to campus next fall as part of Howard’s first recruiting class.
Whether or not Davis will be on scholarship next season remains uncertain. Howard wouldn’t answer that question with certainty on Wednesday, noting only that Davis will have a spot on the program’s roster next season.
“It was an easy decision for me,” Howard said, “just knowing we have a guy who’s all in, loves being here at Michigan and loves playing for the team, and I enjoy coaching him.”