Michigan basketball legend, Austin Davis, is back on the sideline for the Wolverines. Although this time, it's in a new role. Madeline Hinkley/Daily. Buy this photo.

As the Michigan men’s basketball team warms up, fans’ eyes that stray toward the baseline may find a familiar face — former Wolverine center Austin Davis.

Davis, who graduated with his masters in movement science last year after receiving a bachelors of the same title 12 months prior, has found his way back to Ann Arbor. This time, instead of being a steadfast contributor for Michigan coach Juwan Howard, Davis is under the tutelage of head strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson, fulfilling the role of strength and conditioning intern.

“We’ve had a lot of interns, and getting someone that’s never been in our culture and doesn’t understand how we do things is a process to teach them,” Sanderson told The Daily. “So having Austin five years as a player and stepping into this, he knows better than anyone what we do. It’s been a seamless transition.”

Under the mentorship of Sanderson and strength and conditioning coach Jamie Preiss, Davis has worked with the men’s and women’s basketball and golf teams. It’s been an experience both the Michigan staff and Davis view favorably on, but coming back to be part of the strength and conditioning team wasn’t always the plan.

In the spring of 2021, the first decision Davis had to make concerned his own eligibility. With an additional COVID year being granted by the NCAA, Davis had to choose whether or not he would be returning to the Wolverines for a sixth year of play. The answer had less of a reasoning and more of a gut feeling.

“To be honest, it was just kind of my time,” Davis told The Daily. “ … It was just kind of a point in my life that myself and my family, I was ready to move on.” 

The second decision was perhaps even more difficult — would Davis continue his basketball career or move on to something different? Initially, he chose the former. 

Polish basketball team, Klub Koszykówki Wloclawek, signed Davis to a one-year contract, so Davis packed his bags and flew over to Europe for a stint in the Polska Liga Koszykówki (PLK). Around a month in, though, Davis changed his mind about playing overseas.

“It just wasn’t for me,” Davis said. “Being away from the family and all that kind of stuff, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

But while Davis was first exploring his pro options, even before he booked his flight to Poland, he was already exploring his choices right at home.

Davis had spent time with Sanderson seeing what it was like to work in strength and conditioning earlier in the summer. And not only was it appealing on the work side of things, but Ann Arbor sits just 45 minutes away from his hometown of Onsted, a proximity that Davis felt he needed at this point in his life.

Still, that didn’t stop Davis from needing some convincing. He had his two degrees in movement science, and he was eyeing physical therapy school as the next step in his career.

“By the time he was a junior — senior year, for sure — I remember the dialogue was, ‘Austin, you should be a strength coach. You’re one of us.’ ” Sanderson said. “ … Forget physical therapy school — again, half jokingly — but I kind of sold him on it. 

No matter the amount of haggling it may have taken for Sanderson to make the sale, Davis bought it. And now, he might just be in for the long haul.

“I really feel like I found the career I want to pursue and my calling at the end of the day,” Davis said.

For now, that means doing all he can as an intern to learn and contribute to the teams he helps. Fortunately for Davis, it’s something that he’s perfectly suited for.

As a former player, Davis has insight into the wear and tear on the bodies of collegiate athletes — especially in the basketball sphere — that most other strength coaches simply don’t have. It provides Davis with a wealth of knowledge that can guide his decisions in a profession that has no textbook right or wrong answers.

For that same reason, Sanderson has consulted Davis frequently this year when the men’s basketball team has been tasked with a high frequency of games in short periods of time. Davis provided Sanderson his insight on what it was like to play a game, have one day of rest and then play another, allowing the two of them to make proper judgement calls when it came to the Wolverines’ recovery.

“He’s light years ahead of any intern we could’ve brought in or any young coach we could’ve hired,” Sanderson said. “Even if it was someone that was advanced enough to get a full time job with us, he’s ahead.”

As advanced as Davis is after nearly a year under Sanderson’s wing, he still isn’t quite ready to take charge of a program on his own. Sanderson expects Davis to remain an intern with the team at least through the offseason and likely stay on for another cycle before making that leap.

But he has confidence that when Davis does take that next step, he’ll only keep going up from there.

“It could take five years, it could take seven, eight years, I don’t know,” Sanderson said. “But I believe that he’ll wind up in a high major program doing exactly what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years.”

In Sanderson’s eyes, it’s inevitable. Because it’s simply what Davis is meant to do.

“He’s built to do it. I think he’s going to be a star in what we do.”