The Michigan Wolverines returned a talented team with more than a few players who made an impact last year, but it was a trio of newcomers that stood out as the most notable performances in the 96-82 season-opening win over Bowling Green.
Despite a truncated offseason and a quick turnaround to get this year going, a pair of transfers in Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown, along with true freshman center Hunter Dickinson, shined in the first game of the year. Nobody would have been surprised if it took them time to adjust to their new surroundings, but they hit the ground running right from the opening tip this season.
“I was expecting for all our guys to be all hands on deck because we had a team built on guys that would get a chance to play,” head coach Juwan Howard said after the game. “We trust each and every player that step on that floor because they have put in the work in practice, buying into the style of play, the culture that any guy can get off and have a big game for us. Because we have a very talented group. We have shooting, we have length, we also have guys that can play multiple positions, which is the versatility aspect of it. I didn’t expect, nor did I come in thinking that who would be our leading scorers or whatever. I just felt, at the end of the day, I just wanted to make sure we were the team that won the game! I don’t care who scores it.”
Smith finished the game with 14 points and 8 assists in his debut and looked in command of the offense throughout the night. While some had concerns if his Ivy League game would translate a few more rungs up the latter, his head coach never had any doubt.
“Well, I watched a lot of film on Mike,” Howard said. “I hadn’t had a chance to watch him in person. I trust my eyes, also I trust my staff, hearing their evaluation. Yes, there was some guys that we were looking potentially that could fill that point guard spot that opened up because of Zavier Simpson had left. Mike, looking at the fact of his DNA — he’s a competitor. Sometimes, people get lost into the size, but Mike is — I think that’s what helped him gain an advantage, because I think a lot of folks counted him out because he was small. Everyone said small. And what happened is, a guy becomes — ‘Alright, I’ll prove you guys wrong, I’ll add something else, and prove I belong out on the floor.’ So Mike does belong. He belongs out here in college basketball. He’s one of the best shooters at that position, he also has a ton of experience playing against a high-major program, which I was also impressed with. Competed against those high-level, Division I programs, Power Five conferences. And then, Mike also has a high IQ. And as we saw today, he was able to make some plays. Mike finished with 8 assists, 1 turnover — I was always impressed with that Mike sees open guys. It just shows that he has amazing vision.”
“Mike was big for us,” he continued. “Mike is gonna have the ball in his hands a lot. And he’s gonna have the opportunity to make plays for himself and for others. And, like I stated earlier, with his high basketball IQ, I trust that he’s gonna make the right play and put us in the best position to give us the opportunity to either score or someone else score.
“I’m not surprised about how his transition has been so smooth because of his personality. He came into the locker room, watched him in practice, our guys love Mike. I will say this: if you don’t like Mike, something’s wrong with you. He just has that bubbly personality. And his hair! I guess his hair could be attractive as well!”
The loudest performance of the night game from Brown, who scored 18 of his 19 points in the second half while coming off the bench in a sixth-man role.
“Oh, he gave us a big spark tonight,” Howard said. “He’s another experienced guys coming from a Power Five conference. Well-coached by Danny Manning. I went out and got him. When I saw that he was in the transfer portal, I jumped on it right away, because I knew he was gonna help us. He’s the type of guy — he’s embracing, just by being here and doing whatever it takes to help the team. Chaundee’s the definition of a guy that’s all in.”
While not a starter, the freshman Dickinson emerged on Wednesday as someone who already looks like Michigan’s best center right out of the packaging. Despite Austin Davis not playing a ton in the game, his impact was felt throughout the night even when he was on the bench.
“He just looked comfortable out there, man,” Howard said. “He looked like, back in the NBA, we call that a ‘seasoned vet.’ A guy, being a young rookie, just looks like he belongs, he’s been here before. He has teammates that really help him along. Austin Davis has been great in practice teaching Hunter. Also competing against him. You compete against a guy like Austin Davis in practice, it’s truly gonna give you and edge. And Hunter has that edge about him.”
Next up for Michigan is a game against Oakland University on Sunday evening at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.