“NIT” chants reigned down from the rafters of the Kohl Center in Wisconsin.
Just as they did in the State Farm Center at Illinois and again in the Breslin Center at Michigan State. Was it because of the tremendously large unmet expectations laid on the Michigan men’s basketball team, or was it because of the always brash sophomore center Hunter Dickinson? Probably a little bit of both.
But no matter what the reason, the Wolverines were shown little love everywhere that they went.
It’s why Michigan still being in the NCAA Tournament means so much to Dickinson and the rest of his team. And it’s why he’s letting everyone know it.
As he sat at the podium, March Madness logos with the words “Sweet Sixteen” and “Elite Eight” smattered behind him, a reporter asked him what he thought about being one of only two Big Ten teams left in the tournament. Dickinson looked to his teammates seated next to him, tilted his head and smiled.
“This season was definitely not the best,” he said. “Other fans definitely let us know that, particularly Michigan State, Illinois, who else?”
He asked the room as much as he did his teammates, but really, he knew the answer.
“Oh, oh, the team down in Madison,” Dickinson said with a grin. “The red and white team, they definitely let us know how they felt about our season. We heard those ‘NIT’ chants. They were hurtful. They definitely hurt.
“It’s funny how they’ll be watching us on Thursday back in their cribs.”
This isn’t the first time Dickinson has gone on rants about the opposition — he did at Big Ten media day back in October — it’s just the first time in a while he’s been able to do it from a favorable position. His moments to stand up to away crowds and proclaim with his play that he was beating their favorite team rarely ever came. Michigan just lost too much.
Dickinson has always been like this. He’s always been confident, a little cocky and able to fire up opposing fanbases with ease. And while no other Wolverine says it quite like Dickinson does, he’s not alone in his attitude..
They’ve all heard the chants, they’ve all had to deal with the same thing.
‘Overrated,’ was common.
‘Sophomore year,’ was clever.
But that doesn’t really matter anymore. Michigan is in the Sweet Sixteen, and most of the teams that threw the vitriol its way are not.
Dickinson and the rest of Michigan knows that. It’s reflected in the smiles held on the players’ faces as they sit at the podium and in the way they carry themselves on the court.
They know that in spite of everything — all of the losing, all of the animosity — they are still playing for their ultimate end goal.
“I’m just trying to live in the moment right now and cherish the time that we have with the people that are in my life right now at Michigan,” fifth-year guard Eli Brooks said. “Just enjoy the process of going through this tournament again and having that chance of getting our last goal.”
Brooks, Dickinson and the rest of their team’s ultimate goal is to win a national championship. And somehow, someway that goal is still right in front of them.
And Michigan is going to let everyone know that.