There is no love lost between junior center Hunter Dickinson and Maryland.
Although Dickinson attended DeMatha Catholic High School — located just 2.4 miles from College Park — the Terrapins overlooked his abilities, putting almost no effort into recruiting him. Throughout his collegiate career thus far, Dickinson has made a point of showing Maryland what they missed out on when the Michigan men’s basketball team faces it. On Sunday, that was certainly clear.
“Maryland fans would probably think that this (matchup) is all I live for,” Dickinson said. “To be fair, it did lose a little bit of juice with the (coaching) changes and everything. But it still is Maryland, still the hometown team. It was like two miles away from my high school, so it still has it.”
Although Mark Turgeon, the Terrapins’ previous coach who seemingly discounted Dickinson and gave him this chip on his shoulder, is no longer at Maryland, the hometown connection was enough fuel for Dickinson to play his best game of the season.
And in the wake of two straight losses where Dickinson’s play lacked the aggression and physicality that usually defines his dominance, it came at the right time to get things back on track.
At times in the Wolverines’ previous two games, Dickinson seemed to disappear on the court, despite his towering 7-foot-2 presence. Against the Terrapins, though, he was always front and center.
From the first play of the game to the final time Dickinson exited the court, he displayed exactly why Maryland should have fought for him on the recruiting trail. Just 25 seconds into play, Dickinson knocked down a mid-range jumper, and he continued to serve as a main source of production all afternoon. With over six minutes left and a 36 point Michigan advantage, loud cheers and a standing ovation by the Crisler Center crowd greeted him as he made his way to the bench for the final time.
Finishing one point shy of his career-high 33 points, Dickinson made a statement with his 20th career double-double, collecting 12 rebounds to go with his season-high 32 points.
Despite his individual success though, it’s clear that Dickinson’s priority is on team achievements.
“With the amount of games that we have left, I said to (Dickinson) ‘continue to break records, but make sure you do it with a victory,’ ” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said with a laugh. “… But Hunter has always been a guy who’s all about team first. He’s never been a guy who tries to just do it with stats.”
But for Dickinson, individual and team success seem to go hand-in-hand. When he’s struggled, those individual troubles have aggregated to issues at the team level. In games he’s thrived, it has amounted to success for the Wolverines as a whole.
That was especially true against Maryland.
Dickinson dominated right away, going 8-for-9 and scoring 18 points in the first half — five more than the Terrapins put on the board as a team in that span. What Dickinson brings to this Michigan team, however, extends beyond those points. When he plays with this command, it facilitates more opportunities for everyone around him.
“When it gets into me, I feel like I’m a really unselfish player … and I enjoy my teammates’ success,” Dickinson said. “… I’m gonna pass it out if I get doubled. And I think that balance of inside out is something that we have and something that, when it’s clicking like (it was against Maryland), we’re a really hard team to guard.”
Dickinson understands that his role on this team goes beyond being a scorer. With his size and prowess in the paint, he appreciates the opportunities that form around him. But for that to happen, he needs to give defenders reasons to stop him inside the paint.
And he gave Terrapin defenders plenty.
Whether Dickinson’s dominance on Sunday stemmed from facing his hometown team that overlooked him, the start of a new year or just the desire to get things back on track, it made all the difference. And if he keeps doing it, what the Wolverines flashed against Maryland could materialize into more than potential — it could become their reality.