In Play with Tom Markowski


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A slimmer, trimmer Austin Davis continues to improve his game and his well-being

By: Tom Markowski, January 24, 2016, 3:23 pm

Onsted – Those who saw Austin Davis play last season wouldn’t recognize him a year later.

Erie Mason coach Kevin Skaggs didn’t. Skaggs, a former head coach at Alma College, was taken aback by Davis’ athleticism, his ability to run the floor and his endurance after Davis posted 33 points, 22 rebounds, five assists and four blocks in Onsted’s 69-49 victory over Skaggs’ Eagles on Friday.

Davis, 17, is perhaps the state’s most improved player. Davis was good last season as he led Onsted to a Class B regional final by averaging 26 points and 15 rebounds.

Davis is averaging those same numbers again this season but what sets his game apart of from a year ago is his consistency and endurance.

Davis was 6-10 and 265 pounds when his junior season ended. He’s that same height now but he’s cut his weight to 235 pounds. Once Davis committed to Michigan in April he was determined to change his life for the better.

“It was pretty difficult,” he said. “I had to change my diet. I got on a lifting program. When I committed, I said to myself, ‘OK, I have a plan now’. I know what I have to do. I know what I have to change.”

Like most teenagers, especially those who are over six feet tall and weigh over 200 pounds, Davis ate whatever he wanted when he wanted. Since April Davis has drastically cut sugar from his diet, sticks to eating whole wheat bread and consumes large quantities of fruits and vegetables.

Some might say, so what? I can do that. A person who is self-disciplined can do that. It’s different for someone who is in high school. Trips to fast food restaurants are social events. When your friends are ordering cheeseburgers and shakes it’s hard to pass up.

Onsted coach Brad Maska said Davis’ turnaround is a tribute to his commitment to become a better person as well as a better basketball player. Maska has known Davis since he was in middle school. Maska taught physical education at that level and he also coached junior high football. Davis played football back then.

“He was my 260-pound left tackle,” Maska said. “He always had good feet. He was a good baseball player, too. He has that great hand-eye coordination, and that’s helped him in all the sports he’s played. We sat down with him after his freshman year. We asked him what he wanted to do. He was still playing football (and baseball) but basketball was becoming a bigger part of his life. We said you could continue to play all three sports or concentrate on one.

“It was a tough decision for him. A lot of his friends were playing the other sports and it’s tough for a high school kid to make that decision. For him it was a good decision.”

The summer between his freshman and sophomore years was the first time Davis participated in AAU basketball. It was on a low-level team in the Jackson area but he steadily showed improvement. Since then he’s played with the Michigan Mustangs, one of the top AAU programs in the state, and Davis’ game has taken off playing with the likes of Justin Turner (Detroit Renaissance), former Saginaw Arthur Hill star Brian Bowen and Al Eichelberger of Saginaw.

Not only is Davis the individual better but his team is better. Before this season he would often remain underneath the defensive basket. His excess weight would limit his end-to-end action. Now he’ll start a fast break with an outlet pass and be the trailer in position to get an offensive rebound or on the receiving end for a pass from the wing.

“Our transition game is so much better now,” Maska said. “It’s one thing to get to college, get with a trainer and change your body. It’s not easy for a high school kid to change your diet. It’s tough. It shows his commitment.

“The neat thing is he’s a great kid. It’s been a great ride. To see him as our water boy and now he’s going to U-M. If you would have said when he was a freshman he’d be going to Michigan to play basketball I would have said you’re crazy. He’s lifted our program to another level.”      

And the Onsted community has responded in numbers. Maska said their fans equaled or out-numbered for those teams Onsted played in last season’s tournament. This season the gyms are packed, home and away. Fans in Lenawee and Monroe counties realize Davis is something special and they don’t want to miss a moment.

Beyond athletics, Davis is the ideal role model for his classmates and for those at competing schools. At the end of the Mason game Mason cheerleaders asked Davis to pose for pictures. He’s a celebrity but he’s also grounded. Davis knows his place and the importance he can play. He’s an excellent student (4.1 grade-point average, 30 on ACT) and, as the oldest of three children, has responsibilities at home.

His sister Riley is a freshman at Onsted who competes in basketball and volleyball. His brother Ayden is 10 and his fourth grade basketball team is undefeated. Davis makes a point of making every one of his siblings games, if he can, knowing they both look up to him.

The early report on Ayden is he’s more athletic than his older brother was at his age and, at 5-7, is two inches taller.