Hunter Dickinson is comfortable in his own skin — all 7-foot-1, 255 pounds of him.
In an era of basketball where the traditional post-up center is an endangered species, Dickinson’s bruising style of play makes for a refreshing throwback.
“Hunter, he understands he’s a post player,” Mike Jones, Dickinson’s high school coach at DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md., said. “He’s unique. He can shoot threes and pass the ball as well as anybody, but he also knows he can be extremely effective on the block close to the basket. A lot of bigs don’t want to do that. He’s very good at it.”
The Wolverines need Dickinson, a four-star center and the 42nd-ranked recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings, to contribute right away. Two-year starter Jon Teske graduated in the spring, leaving Dickinson and fifth-year senior Austin Davis — who has yet to start in his collegiate career — as the only centers on the roster.
To contend in the Big Ten, having a viable center is essential. The conference ran through the position a year ago, and figures to do the same in the upcoming season.
No Power Five conference features a more potent collection of big men than the Big Ten. It’s a group headlined by first-team All-American and Naismith Award finalist Luka Garza, who comes back to anchor Iowa in his senior season.
Kofi Cockburn, a 7-foot-1, 290 pound wall of muscle, turned down the NBA to return to Illinois for his sophomore campaign. Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers make for a dynamic duo of stretch-fives at Wisconsin. Purdue’s Trevion Williams torched Michigan for 36 points and 20 rebounds last season. Trayce Jackson-Davis is a budding star for Indiana.
The list goes on.
It’s no easy task for an experienced center to tackle, let alone a freshman embarking on his first foray into college basketball. But if anyone is up for the challenge, Jones is confident that it’s Dickinson.
“He’s always performed well against guys his size, guys with reputations,” Jones said. “When the bright lights come on, Hunter’s there. He’s a big-game player. He’s used to playing in big games with the spotlight on him, getting a ton of attention. I think he really thrives in that environment.”
Playing at a perennial basketball powerhouse in DeMatha afforded Dickinson multiple rendezvous with premiere talent. In January, the Stags squared off against Rancho Cristian in a nationally-televised showdown on ESPN.
The meeting pitted Dickinson against Evan Mobley, the nation’s third-ranked recruit and consensus No. 1 center. While Mobley poured in 22 points and 11 rebounds, it was Dickinson who stole the show, anchoring DeMatha with 28 points and three blocks in a 69-61 victory.
Two years earlier as a high school sophomore, Dickinson matched up against another highly-touted recruit in McDonald’s All-American Moses Brown. Though two years Brown’s junior, Dickinson held his own with a 19-point, eight-rebound performance. DeMatha came away with the win, blitzing Brown’s Archbishop Molly High School, 88-56.
“Hunter literally dominated the entire game,” Jones said. “A sophomore against an All-American. And there was no signature moment in the game. He just methodically went about dominating. It’s something he’s just always done.”
Jones sees Michigan as “nearly a perfect fit” for Dickinson. He says Dickinson is already working closely with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson to ready his 7-foot-1 frame for the grind of a college season.
And the opportunity to grow under the tutelage of Juwan Howard — a 19-year NBA veteran and no stranger to battles in the paint — is one of the principal reasons Dickinson opted to play for Michigan in the first place.
“What Hunter wants to do, coach Howard’s already done,” Jones said. “Hunter, he sets goals and then goes after them. He knows what he needs to do. I know he wants to be able to play and dominate at Michigan, and he’s working hard.
“His game isn’t going to do anything but take off.”