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What to expect from the freshman in the Michigan basketball program this season

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There are some guys that will see the court

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Juwan Howard’s first class after a full recruiting cycle is about to play their first season as Michigan Wolverines. The top-ranked class in the Big Ten and No. 14 overall in the country brought players who have a legitimate shot of producing from day one in Ann Arbor. A couple of them may even have the chance to be starters from the get-go.

Let’s dive into this class and see what role each of these true freshmen will have this season.

Four-star center Hunter Dickinson

Dickinson wound up being the crown jewel of this class. He was the No. 42 player in the country and at 7-foot-2 towers over every other player at Michigan this season. This is exactly the type of guy that Howard and Michigan wanted to bring in, hone his post-game, and have him leave an NBA-caliber player.

Just look at the ascension Austin Davis made last season from a bench player to a borderline starter in one season of Howard accelerating his footwork and moves in the post. Dickinson already has some finesse down low, boasting a lefty-hook shot, and Howard is only going to get more out of him.

Assistant coach Phil Martelli told reporters earlier this week that Davis and Dickinson have been going at it in practices, and it appears the fifth-year senior is showing the true freshman the difference of size, speed, and strength at the next level. “Austin is truly country strong and he wears Hunter out. I’m not saying he surprised him, but he presented Hunter with a real awakening.”

“Hunter Dickinson has been on a climb,” said Martelli. “A lot of times you want a kid with that kind of reputation to come in and skyrocket. But with COVID and not having a chance to be in the lab with Juwan every day, have his hands on him, Hunter is coming (along).”

Expect the battle for the starting center role to last well into the season. My belief is that Davis will get the starting role to begin the year, and it is well-deserved after the fifth-year senior earned the opportunity last year. But if Dickinson continues to mature and adapt to the speed of the college level, he should take over the starting gig at some point during the year.

Four-star guard Zeb Jackson

Zeb Jackson committed to Michigan back in 2018 and even after John Beilein left the program, Jackson kept his word and is now on the Wolverines roster. There have been a lot of high hopes coming from the guard out of Montverde High School, and he puts himself in a position to be a significant role player in year one.

Last week, Juwan Howard said he anticipated Jackson, Eli Brooks, and grad-transfer Mike Smith to all play this season. Phil Martelli also called Jackson one of the team’s “best surprises” in the early goings of the season.

Jackson has been praised for his shooting ability. The athletic combo guard has “streaks that are like a rocket” according to Martelli. “When he’s going, he can really put the ball in the basket. What we’re working with is to make sure he understands great shot, good shot, bad shot. That’s going to take a little work.”

So, while he may be a little streaky, it will be nice to see some consistent scoring from a guard spot that has been dominated by pass-first players over the last several seasons.

“There’s just something about a left-hander.” said Martelli, “You know that stroke is in there. We just want it to come out more consistently.”

Four-star forward Terrance Williams

Williams is a guy that has flown under the radar since committing to Michigan on Jan. 1. His time so far in Ann Arbor has been anything but quiet. Martelli praised his high IQ, his shooting, and his ability to guard some of the bigger guys on the roster.

The issue is that he joins the deepest position group on the Michigan roster. Franz Wagner, Brandon Johns, and Isaiah Livers will likely duke it out for the majority of minutes in the 3 and 4 spots. Like Livers, Williams is interchangeable in the 3 and 4 positions while Wagner is locked into a 2 or 3 and Johns is a 4 or 5. Trying to break into rotation with the best players on the team may be difficult.

Still, “He’s one of those guys that you’ve got to find a way to get him on the court,” according to Martelli. “Terrance Williams impacts winning, so he’ll have that opportunity to get out there, make some mistakes. But he doesn’t think young, he doesn’t act young and he doesn’t play young.”

Even with the surplus of talent, it appears there will be minutes there for the true freshman who could be the biggest surprise of the class.

Three-star wing Jace Howard

Howard’s son Jace joins the fold after committing to the Wolverines and becoming a scholarship player after there were rumors he may be a walk-on to preserve a spot for Josh Christopher or Isaiah Todd who both wound up going elsewhere.

The 6-foot-8 Howard moves from a forward spot to more of a wing player in Ann Arbor, but it appears the minutes may not be there for Jace.

Martelli squashed any rumors about any awkwardness with a father-son duo in the program saying that “Jace Howard is as good a teammate as we have on this team. There’s a lot of love there and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

Down the road, maybe there is a potential for Howard to come off the bench, but I suspect he will see very little of the court this season if everyone stays healthy.