ONSTED — Austin Davis stood in the doorway, nearly too tall to pass through, and gave high-fives, handshakes and fist bumps to much smaller kids this morning.
Of course, everyone in the Onsted High School gym would stare up at the 6-foot-10 gentle giant, who became the Michigan basketball team’s first signee of the 2016 basketball recruiting class. But he thanked every student from Onsted Elementary School as they filed out.
His mother, Marsha, is the elementary school’s principal, but today was about more than that connection. It was about a village of around 1,000 people embracing its first Division I basketball recruit.
The band played U-M’s “The Victors.” His high school teammates taunted him from the bleachers as he posed with a gaggle of girls. The community filled the gym’s stands and cheered his name.
They wanted to share in his moment.
“That’s just Austin and what he’s done,” said Onsted coach Brad Maska, who recalled Davis running around as a fourth-grader in his gym class, never imagining this day. “He helps out in the elementary all year, so all these kids know him. They see him in the hallways, they see him coming down to see me in my classroom. So they love him. The community loves him, and I think that’s what you get in a small, tight-knit community like this. This doesn’t happen very often, and when this does happen, they just get around him and support the heck out of him.”
Though naturally quiet, Davis was excited for the signing ceremony this morning. Popping up before his alarm — usually set just before 6 a.m. for workouts — he knew this was going to be a day he would remember.
Wearing a navy blue suit, blue tie with yellow M’s and stripes, and a gold lapel pin, Davis arrived early and wandered the gym with his family and friends before the students entered.
Once he had their attention, he thanked the veterans on Veterans Day, ran through a list of friends, school officials and his younger brother and sister, then thanked his parents for their support, if not their favorable genes.
He verbally committed to U-M in April, but now he’s officially bound to the Wolverines. And he’s still young, having just turned 17.
“The feeling would be a little different, but it’s still amazing,” he said. “It feels great to make it official and know that I’m definitely going there.”
He connected with U-M’s other 2016 recruits — Medina, Ohio, center Jon Teske; Pickerington, Ohio, wing Ibi Watson; and Lima, Ohio, point guard Xavier Simpson — on their official visits the weekend of the Michigan State football game.
And Michigan is getting a different player than it expected in April. When U-M coach John Beilein said he wanted to see Davis in better shape, to be able to run the length of the court with less trouble, Davis internalized it.
Since last basketball season, when he led Onsted to its first district title in three decades, he remade his body, dropping from his peak of 270 pounds and an estimated 20% body fat all the way down to 225 pounds. Then he began the climb back up with muscle.
Using tips from U-M strength coach Jon Sanderson and a renovated diet, Davis is a svelte 232 pounds with 11% body fat.
No more of his favorite O-Town Pizza — “now we just walk past,” he said. Davis focused instead on chicken, whole grain rice and, recently, venison. He snagged his first doe and seven-point buck this fall, hunting on his family’s property.
With the off-season work concluded — more than 25,000 shots put up since the end of the school year, according to his father, Eric — the real season begins Monday.
“That’s the thing that’s been so impressive, as a coach — each year, I have to keep challenging him and find new things to challenge him with,” Maska said. “It’s been a long road, and it hasn’t been without its struggles, but we’re so proud of him.”
At 6 a.m. Monday, the Onsted Wildcats will gather for the most anticipated season in local history.
Davis is in better shape, can comfortably hit a three-pointer and is evolving into a player far beyond the one who scored 51 points as a sophomore, days after Michigan State assistant Dane Fife and Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan showed him high-major recruiting interest.
“We were fortunate coach Beilein and the University of Michigan found Austin in our little town of Onsted,” Maska said to the crowd. “Unfortunately for them, he has another year with us and the Wildcats.”