In a modern basketball game that values 3-point shooting and floor-spacing over interior domination, traditional back-to-the-basket centers are often viewed as dinosaurs.
But on Sunday, 7-foot-1 freshman Hunter Dickinson was the difference-maker for the Michigan men’s basketball team in its 92-87 win over No. 4 Ohio State, as he finished with a team-best 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting and added nine rebounds.
After the Wolverines shot a scoring 77 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, their dismal 10-percent clip from deep in the second half forced them to go inside to Dickinson. Sixteen of Dickinson’s points came in the second half, and his biggest contributions came down the stretch.
With five minutes remaining and Michigan leading 71-69, Dickinson scored eight of the Wolverines’ next 11 points. Nobody guarding him from the Buckeyes was taller than 6-foot-8, and Dickinson used his throwback low-post game to make them pay.
“We feel like (Dickinson) is a really good go-to option,” senior guard Eli Brooks said. “We get him in his spots, and obviously he’s producing this season. At halftime, we wanted to continue to win the war in the paint and doing that with Hunter worked out well.”
Through 17 games, Dickinson is averaging 15 points and 7.8 rebounds. His seamless adjustment to the college game can be attributed to Michigan coach Juwan Howard, who goes out of his way to schedule one-on-one film sessions and private workouts with Dickinson.
The two shared a film session on Saturday night, and Dickinson followed it up with one of his best games to date on Sunday’s national stage. That’s no coincidence.
“Hunter and I, we always have this amazing relationship of how we can improve and how I can help him be the best version of himself,” Howard said. “And so, we had a nice film session last night — just the two of us, areas of growth. And that I think was a big, big reason in how he’s been developing. Those one-on-one film sessions, those workouts that we have, the team workouts, the big man workouts, he’s growing before our eyes.”
Added Dickinson: “Whenever I’m down on myself from a previous game that I think I didn’t play my best in and that there’s a lot of room to improve, I always come to (Howard) and ask him to go over the previous game with me and just talk about it and look at some clips, see where we can improve. That really helps me a lot. He’s really a player-friendly coach so whenever I come to him for help, he’s always there 110 percent with me.”
Dickinson arrived in Ann Arbor with elite footwork as a four-star high school recruit, and he leveraged that into immediate production after spending the summer soaking up coaching from Howard and Michigan director of basketball operations Chris Hunter, a former NBA big man.
“It takes freshmen a little longer to figure it out, but Hunter has this high basketball IQ because of his passion for the game and the way he’s accepted learning,” Howard said. “A lot of guys don’t want to be coached. Hunter wants to be coached.”
Both teams shot the lights out from beyond the arc in the first half, but when crunch time came around and the game grew physical, Dickinson’s old-school game swung the pendulum in Michigan’s favor.
Senior guard Chaundee Brown recalled telling Howard to keep feeding Dickinson down the stretch, and that’s exactly what the Wolverines did. It paid off, to say the least.
“We feel that (Dickinson) can’t be stopped down there,” Brooks said. “He’s proven himself that he can score against anybody. He did that today.”