The village of Onsted does not have a lot.
It doesn’t have more than 1,000 residents, and it doesn’t have a Meijer (or a Walmart, or a Whole Foods, or probably any store where most people would choose to go grocery shopping). It most definitely does not have its own exit on the highway, or really even an exit near it at all, and just is not a convenient drive unless you’re taking US-12.
But Onsted does have a stoplight, and John Beilein knows all about it.
“I grew up in farmlands. You go in (to Onsted) and there’s probably one stoplight — now, it’s a blinking light I think in Onsted. … I don’t even know if we had a light,” Beilein told The Daily. “We might have had one light in my hometown, too.”
As someone who comes from a place that has two whole stoplights, I want to stress how a small number of stoplights in a town can build character. And Onsted, with its one blinking stoplight, has followed suit, as the historical little village about an hour away from Ann Arbor is where Austin Davis calls home.
A redshirt sophomore for the Michigan men’s basketball team, Davis is only the 14th player from Lenawee County — not just Onsted, but the entire county — to play Division I basketball. He was carried to Michigan by a standout career built in Onsted, the same place where he used to go “downtown” to get a haircut in a barbershop while listening to old-timers talk and where his mom, Marsha, is the principal of an elementary school.
With these traits in mind, you can imagine the crisp contrast that separates Onsted High School from the University of Michigan or even the village of Onsted from Ann Arbor. The social difference is stark; the physical difference is actually laughable.
“That was really quite the shock when I came here, just the amount of people and how different it just was,” Davis said. “But I always really loved (Onsted), everybody always knew what was going on. If you had a good team, it didn’t matter what sport it was, men’s sports, women’s sports, didn’t matter.
“… But, honestly, living in the city — and this might sound stupid — it’s not seeing the woods. Growing up at our house in Onsted, we have like three acres but it’s right on the edge of a huge forest. We have big crop fields and agriculture fields surrounding us. You see deer, turkeys, all kinds of wildlife all the time. It’s just a shock, going from that.”
It’s true. North Campus’ one trail through the woods near the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and Nichols Arb, though both very nicely kept and wonderful walks in the fall, are nothing compared to the cornfields and dense woods that dominate parts of Michigan.
Of course, Davis made the adjustment to deal with these differences. He leaned on his teammates, and he’s dealing with the change in scenery (for now). Coming from a Class B school with a graduating class of 86 people makes these adjustments hard enough, but adapting to the academic end of that can be even harder.
Some smaller public schools in the state of Michigan don’t offer a wide variety of classes, or AP classes at all. My high school, which played Onsted in multiple sports, didn’t offer any math classes beyond Algebra II unless you count physics or consumer’s math, which is where we learned how to do our taxes (which is arguably more important than the Pythagorean theory — theorem? — but definitely not a good enough prep course for the hell that is Michigan Math).
But, luckily for Davis, Onsted’s lone blinking stoplight prepped him for that adjustment, too.
“We had a few AP classes. We actually had a really good math teacher, his name was Mr. Gemalsky. I took every class he offered. I just really enjoyed going to class and learning from him and we had a lot of teachers like that. That didn’t necessarily go to places like Michigan, but really tried to push people to be their best.
“We definitely were lucky to have that. I know a lot of the really small schools didn’t have stuff like that, so we were lucky and fortunate to have that.”
Beilein and Davis were both aware of the jump he would have to make. They knew it would take an adjustment, going from a village to a Division I school. They knew it back in his junior year of high school.
They went with it anyway.
“If he’s got the passion and he wants to come here, it’s a no brainer,” Beilein said. “He’s a brilliant high school student, he really fit, I felt, and he really dedicated himself. … And so when we offered him the scholarship, it was with the idea that he would redshirt for a year. And that’s how it all happened because he basically told me at the time, ‘Coach, if you ever offer me a scholarship to the University of Michigan, I’m coming.’ ”
And he did. Four years later, Davis, a star basketball kid from a little village in Michigan, is a redshirt sophomore who has three years of eligibility left. He’s majoring in movement science, and he wants to be a physical therapist one day — maybe in a town with a little more greenery than Ann Arbor and fewer people.
He mostly finds himself at his hometown for his little sister’s volleyball games in the fall, or his little brother’s basketball games in the winter. When he goes, he talks to to his old coach and family, and to those same old-timers he chatted up in the barbershop where he used to get his hair cut.
He’s a local celebrity. He’s six-foot-10, so there’s no doubt he’s a little hard to ignore. But it’s mostly because he made history for a random town southwest of Ann Arbor.
Not bad for someone who comes from a little village with one blinking stoplight.
Byler can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @laneybyler. She hopes you come to the White Pigeon fair.