Bruce Shingler looks back on it fondly.
Years ago, back when he coached the DC Assault AAU team that included the fourth-grade version of now-Michigan forward Terrance Williams II, he remembers a behemoth of an elementary schooler causing problems for his team.
So Shingler enlisted Williams to help him solve the problem.
“I (didn’t) want to play against (Dickinson) no more, he’s too good,” Shingler told The Daily. “We had to get him on our team. So (I told) Terrance: ‘Go get him.’ ”
Yes, you read that right. Those aren’t the words of a college or high school coach. Those are the words of Williams’ fourth grade basketball coach.
Because Dickinson and Williams go way, way back.
The duo met even earlier than the fourth-grade basketball recruitment scene. They first connected back in second grade, competing against each other in the AAU circuit. That early competition laid the groundwork for an unbreakable connection that has grown even stronger in the decade plus since.
That foundation grew when Shingler and Williams’ recruiting efforts succeeded. Sure enough, Dickinson joined Williams at DC Assault in fifth grade, creating a juggernaut that no elementary-aged basketball player expects to deal with.
“You see that advance, they were a little more advanced than the average ten-year-old,” Shingler recalled. “(Our team) would always get questioned that we were older than other people, because of how big we were and how much we would win by.”
It makes sense. When the average ten-year-old is terrorized by a kid who was already 6-foot-2 and strapped with sports goggles in Dickinson, they can’t help but call foul play and scream that it’s unfair. Pair that with Williams, a big, goofy kid bursting with talent, and what caring parent of a poor fourth-grader on the other team wouldn’t question its legality?
Because if being that talented and building stellar on-court chemistry at the age of ten was illegal, Dickinson and Williams were breaking the law.
But it wasn’t always easy. There was strong competition not only locally, but nationally as well. DC Assault was a band of elementary-aged rock stars, with multiple other teammates — such as Georgetown’s Jay Heath and Rhode Island’s Ishmael Leggett — also going on to D1 basketball careers down the road. So the team would travel, facing the best the country had to offer.
However, despite their massive potential and development for the future, they were still kids at the end of the day — they were always having fun.
“It was one infamous pillow fight that I always remember,” Shingler said. “One of them hit the coach with a pillow, laughing and joking, and then it just turned into a huge pillow fight with everybody laughing and joking.”
It’s unclear if Dickinson or Williams swung the first pillow, but it’s abundantly clear that the pair was creating lifelong memories — both on the court and off — from a very young age.
Those memories helped build a bond, one that only got stronger as the years continued on.
As Dickinson and Williams continued their growth leading into high school — with Dickinson surging to 6-foot-11 by the time he was 15 — they began taking the game even more seriously, which included additional training outside of team play. Just as Dickinson joined Williams at DC Assault in fifth grade, Williams joined Dickinson in training with Alex Harris of Evolution Basketball as high school neared.
Those training sessions helped hone their skills, and Harris always had a blast working with the both of them together — he still does whenever he can get their busy schedules to line up.
Although competition between each other was limited at Evolution, it ramped up as the pair joined AAU’s Team Takeover, where they played leading up to and throughout high school.
“Nobody wants to lose to one of their best friends, and give them bragging rights,” Team Takeover coach Keith Stevens told The Daily. “When those guys lock horns and they got between the lines, the friendship went out the door.”
While competing together at AAU was their summer gig, during the high school season that competition took a whole new form. Dickinson and Williams, brothers in almost every sense of the word, took different routes for their high school careers.
Routes that made them arch rivals.
Now, there wasn’t actually a falling out between the two. They didn’t suddenly hate each other after picking different schools and still played on Team Takeover together. But Williams enrolled at Gonzaga High School his freshman year, while Dickinson went to Gonzaga’s biggest rival: DeMatha Catholic High School. That rivalry ensured that the two would compete against each other in high-stakes affairs, regularly.
The two teams went head-to-head nine times over the course of those four years, and things always got spicy.
“They matched up against each other a lot, because we weren’t a big team,” Gonzaga coach Stephen Turner told The Daily. “… Those were wars when those two would go against each other.”
It was Mike Jones — DeMatha’s coach at the time — who remembered perhaps the greatest war story of them all.
Jones recalled the two teams colliding when both were nationally ranked their sophomore year. Dickinson matched up against Williams, but Williams was unfazed. Williams started the game hitting three consecutive three-pointers on Dickinson.
And on his way down the court after the third one, he hit Dickinson with the ‘Jordan shrug’.
“(He was) basically (telling) Hunter, ‘Are you gonna guard me?’ ” Jones told The Daily. “We wound up losing the game, and I remember that fire that it kind of lit in Hunter.”
Dickinson got the last laugh in the series, going 6-3 against Gonzaga in his high school career, but moments like that are what helped build their bond. It wasn’t just the times competing on the same team, like when they played together at AAU, but also the times where they were truly apart — beating each other — that played into their parallel routes to the Michigan men’s basketball team.
But while they were competing like enemies in high school, those battles were paving the way for their paths to fully realign once again.
That came to fruition in Ann Arbor.
When Dickinson and Williams — now both captains for Michigan as juniors — play together this year, you’ll see how their lifelong bond translates to chemistry on the court.
But ask the people who grew up with them, and they’ll say they saw it all along.
“When they were both freshmen, I reached out to (former Michigan coach) John Beilein, and talked to him about both of them,” Harris said. “I just said, ‘Hey, I know they’re really young, but they’re both perfect for Michigan.’ ”
Shingler — who was unsuccessful in recruiting them to South Carolina, where he coached at the time — saw it too. He told Michigan coach Juwan Howard, who was all over Dickinson on the recruiting trail at the time, to keep an eye out for Williams, telling Juwan: “He’s your type of guy.”
Turner, who only coached Williams, knew it was the case for both of them as well.
“Michigan’s gonna love those two playing together a lot more minutes,” Turner said. “Because they really feed off each other … you can’t put a price tag on their relationship, in terms of them knowing what the other one’s thinking or wanting to do. You’ll see it.”
At Michigan media days on Oct. 14, each player commanded a table to field questions from reporters. After over a decade of competition with and against each other, Dickinson and Williams sat mere feet from each other as they were asked to reflect on what it was like going from elementary-school basketball to college captains, together.
“It is something that I think is really special for us,” Dickinson said. “I’m really happy that (Williams) is here with me. … He was really good when we were younger, like he is now … somebody that I admire.”
At the table across from him, Williams echoed similar sentiments.
“I’ve been through a lot with him, it definitely felt different when we were both chosen captains,” Williams said. “… It’s surreal … Growing up with a childhood friend (and) now you’re playing basketball at one of the highest stages with him, so it’s definitely a great feeling.”
The two captains shoulder an extra load. The only seniors on the team are transfers, making them and fellow junior-captain Jace Howard the Wolverines’ longest tenured players. As the young team looks for leadership, it’ll look towards two kids who grew into men, together.
So if you looked out onto the youth basketball courts of the metro-DC area over ten years ago, you’d see Dickinson and Williams, together. If you went to training sessions, you’d see Dickinson and Williams, together.
If you went to the elite high-school AAU circuits of the DMV, you’d see Dickinson and Williams, together. If you went to some of the DMV’s biggest high school basketball games, you’d see Dickinson and Williams competing against each other, together.
So to know what their relationship is made of, how tight their bond is. Just look out onto the Crisler Center court this year, and you’ll see Dickinson and Williams, leading Michigan.