There were a lot of things I expected when I signed on to cover the Michigan men’s basketball team this season.
But Austin Davis, I did not expect. And how could I? After three years of limited minutes off the bench and a promising backup at the big man spot in sophomore forward Colin Castleton, how could I — or anyone else, for that matter — have expected Davis to establish himself in his senior season?
And yet here we are, two months into the year, and Davis is — well, he’s doing some things.
Some of those things are: eight points against an Iowa team that ranks 16th in KenPom, eight rebounds and three blocks against Presbyterian, a solid defensive performance against a formidable Purdue offense and a composed appearance against Michigan State in an anything-but-composed Breslin Center.
Amid frequent foul trouble for Teske and a largely disappointing sophomore season for Castleton, Davis’ success couldn’t have come at a better time for Michigan.
“Austin Davis was huge for us tonight,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said after the Iowa game. “Austin was the next man up. We have this model, on our team: ‘Stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready.’ And that’s how our guy responded. I’m so proud of that effort.”
Davis isn’t doing anything differently, he says. But practicing against the likes of Moe Wagner and Jordan Poole and playing on scout teams of some of the country’s best college basketball programs is finally paying off, and Davis is proving himself as a reliable and more than capable extended-minutes backup big man.
Not many of us saw this coming. I certainly didn’t. But after years of having the next-man-up mentality drilled into him, Davis was more than ready when the time finally did come. His poise on and off the court has been a testament to that.
“It felt good to go in and do that,” Davis said, laughing, after the Wolverines’ win over the Hawkeyes. “It’s just about filling whatever role that my brothers need that day.”
Now Davis isn’t going to start getting equal playing time with Teske, or even close to it, at least assuming Teske doesn’t get himself in foul trouble as soon as he steps out onto the hardwood. But it wouldn’t be surprising if Davis starts seeing more minutes on the court this season, especially as Michigan heads into the heart of a challenging conference schedule rife with imposing big men like Penn State’s Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins, and prolific offenses like the one head coach Mark Turgeon is running down at Maryland.
Whatever Michigan needs him for, though, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Davis will be a pretty reliable source.
“It’s being ready for whatever the team needs that day,” Davis said. “Today, it was going in and playing some, and contributing that way. Other days it might be getting the starters and the high-minute guys a good-looking practice.
“It’s been frustrating at times, but just really staying positive, being happy for my brothers when they do something great, that’s really helped a lot, too.”