For most high school basketball players with Division I aspirations, college decisions are made long before May of senior year. Brent Hibbitts, however, had to wait until he was admitted to Michigan before making his.
Hibbitts had already received a handful of scholarship offers from mid-major schools such as Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Appalachian State when Michigan coach John Beilein and the Wolverines entered the mix during his senior season.
But playing for Michigan came with a catch: Hibbitts would have to be a walk-on and pay his way through college.
Days after hearing of his acceptance, the 6-foot-8 forward decided to become a preferred walk-on for the Wolverines, and just a few weeks after that, he arrived in Ann Arbor for summer training.
“I had several offers that I was considering,” Hibbitts said. “But then Michigan came up, and that was obviously a different option because I’d be a walk-on and have to pay, but it also had its benefits: the academics, the level of play, just being a part of Michigan.
“I’m a Michigan guy, so I guess that’s kind of always been a dream.”
The role of a walk-on is less glamorous than that of a scholarship athlete, but the benefits that come with playing against Big Ten talent and earning a Michigan degree were too hard to ignore.
“I’m undecided on my major right now,” Hibbitts said. “But obviously, it’s Michigan, it has very high academics. When I do decide, I know I’ll be getting a great education no matter what I major in.”
Hibbitts averaged 17.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game as a senior at Hudsonville High School, garnering an Associated Press Class A All-State honorable mention and an offer from Central Michigan, where his older brother, Blake, is a two-sport athlete, was particularly enticing.
Though his brother initially wanted him to be a Chippewa so they could play together again, the elder Hibbitts backed off as time went by and more offers rolled in.
“As (recruitment) went on, he was just like, ‘Do what’s best for you,’ ” Hibbitts said. “I waited it out and decided that this was best for me, and he was really supportive as well, just like everyone else in my family.”
During Michigan’s 2014-15 season, the importance of the walk-on role was apparent. After then-junior guard Caris LeVert and then-sophomore guard Derrick Walton were sidelined with season-ending injuries, then-sophomore walk-ons Sean Lonergan and Andrew Dakich appeared in 17 and 13 games, respectively, playing over 120 combined minutes. They were more than just garbage-time players.
Though the Wolverines are healthy and experienced for the time being, Hibbitts knows from history that if he puts in the work, he’ll get meaningful minutes down the road. As one of just two freshmen on a seasoned squad, it’s expected that Hibbitts will redshirt this season.
The other freshman — German forward Moritz Wagner — is Hibbitts’ roommate.
“He’s a really goofy dude,” Hibbitts said of Wagner. “It’s been good. (The team) really accepted us with everything, on the court, off the court. Moe is my roommate, so we got to know each other really well, and then we got to know the team together. It’s been a good relationship.”
For now, Hibbitts and Wagner are just learning the ropes in practice, side by side with future NBA talent, while simultaneously adjusting to college life.
“I was a little bit overwhelmed when I first started playing with (LeVert),” Hibbits said. “I was just like ‘Wow, he’s a really good player.’ A lot of other guys are like that too. Now I’m kind of used to it, but I’m still impressed by how good of a player he is. He works really, really hard too, so it’s no surprise that he’s that good.”
After giving up full rides to other schools just for the opportunity to contribute to the Wolverines, Hibbitts plans on working hard, too.