True freshman center Hunter Dickinson has been a breath of fresh air for the Michigan Wolverines Through three games has the look of one of the most complete big men that this program has had in quite some time.
His third outing against Ball State — an 84-65 victory that moved his team to 3-0 — saw him record his first career double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. It was as complete a team win as the Wolverines have had so far this season and Dickinson was pleased with how it all went down.
“I’ve been feeling pretty confident lately in my game,” Dickinson told the media after the game. “Coach (Juwan Howard) has instilled a lot of confidence in me as well as my teammates. I give it up to them to give me the confidence to go out there and play my game. I’m just excited that we got the win today. We finally got a good, solid victory that everybody’s happy about.”
It takes time time for bigs that are not exactly NBA-ready right out of the box to adjust to the game and that applies even more so during a year that brought about a weird lead-up truncated non-conference slate of games. Dickinson is still prone to a freshman mistake, but has mostly powered through the wall to this point. He says that going up against graduate center Austin Davis in practice has accelerated his development.
“To be honest I think the practice has been the best for me, going against Austin every day,” he said. “That’s, I think the best so far. Super strong, super smart, super skilled. Really helped me make the game easy, almost.”
“I think it would probably be easier to say what he hasn’t done for me,” he continued. “Every play, every rep, something. After everything I do, he’s in my ear coaching me, giving me advice on something I should do. Whether it’s screening angles or something on the block. Different movements where I should be just in different sets of the play. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done.”
Dickinson, who stands at 7-foot-1, 255 pounds, has had a major advantage over the teams that Michigan has played so far due to how much bigger he is than most of the players. It likely will not always be that way once they move into conference play, but he says he has had a taste of taking advantage of the mismatch before coming out of one of the best high school conferences in the country in the DMV area.
“It’s kinda like playing in the WCAC for me,” he said. “When you’re out there in the WCAC it’s like five (division 1) players, five D1 talents out there on the other team. Players might play faster and harder out there but I think playing in the WCAC has definitely given me a lot of good habits when it comes to playing teams that maybe aren’t as big as me. Playing teams with 6-7, 6-8 big men helped me translate to playing teams like Oakland and Bowling Green, teams with a little bit less size. I wouldn’t say I was prepared but I had a little taste of it in high school.”
As impressive as Dickinson’s individual performances have been through the first three games of the season, it is still a team game and Michigan has struggled at times to put all of the pieces together for 40 minutes. Despite what was a fairly-complete victory over Ball State, the Wolverines allowed the Cardinals to make a 19-6 run towards the end of the first half and cut the lead to seven points heading into the locker room.
Dickinson said the team heard about it during the halftime break.
“Yeah, Coach Howard definitely got on us at halftime, said we can’t give up this lead,” he said. “We just went out there and weren’t focused on defense. We were giving them easy baskets toward the end. Especially the middle part of that first half, we were really making them work for everything and they were struggling to score. Towards the end, they were starting to get easy buckets in there. We weren’t really locked in on defense so we let the lead slip a little bit.
“Going into halftime, this team is really good at coaching ourselves — not that coach doesn’t coach us hard, he surely does. There are so many veterans and so much leadership that we can really hold ourselves accountable for when we’re not doing stuff right. Our leaders — Eli, Mike, Isaiah, Austin, even Franz — they really hold everybody accountable and hold themselves accountable out there.”
There have been plenty of mistakes through the first batch of games this season, but Dickinson says that his teammates have absorbed them as a learning experience. Especially with the lofty goals that the program has.
“Yes, I think Chaundee (Brown) said after the Oakland game, we’re glad that we learned this early in the season and glad we were able to learn it and win. Better to learn it now than the Sweet Sixteen or the Final Four when it could cost us.”