Hunter Dickinson and Michigan broke through and got a statement win against No. 3 Purdue. Madeline Hinkley/Daily. Buy this photo.

Dreams of the NBA.

That, and another championship.

That’s what brought Hunter Dickinson back to Michigan. Back for his sophomore year, for a run with a team that many expected to hang at least one more banner.

Lately, Dickinson has held up his end of the bargain. Night after the night the star center has put up brilliant performances. Twenty-five points against Michigan State, 26 points in 23 minutes against Nebraska, 28 points at Mackey Arena, 19 at Penn State. 

But, half of those were losses and the other two were unceremonious wins.

Dickinson was putting up star performances in spots where the Wolverines needed him most, and yet, half the time, Michigan still fell short.

Until Thursday night.

When the Wolverines finally broke through, when the crowd at Crisler Center got to celebrate a resounding win all on a night where Dickinson put up yet another virtuosic performance. 

Just this time he got to celebrate it.

“Shoot, if they’re gonna storm the court, I might as well get in there too,” Dickinson quipped postgame.

It’s a scene that resonates with you. The image of Dickinson standing in the middle of the crowd that took residence at center court, sticking out head and shoulders above all those that surrounded him. The seven-foot-tall man known everywhere throughout Ann Arbor stood as a beacon, someone for Michigan to follow out of mediocrity and to somewhere more closely resembling its preseason expectations.

For those dreams to materialize, Dickinson will need to put up more performances like the one he had Thursday against Purdue, or the one he had at Indiana, hell, maybe even like the one he had against Maryland. 

But, isn’t that expected at this point?

“He’s put the work in,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Every time he shoots it, I feel like it’s going in.”

Howard speaks with such reverence about his star player, about the sacrifices he made last year for others, about the work he did in the offseason, that it’s easy to see where all the confidence he has placed in Dickinson comes from.

Howard knows that as soon as Dickinson steps off the court, the Wolverines’ offense seems lost. That’s why even in spite of a nagging lower-body injury plaguing Dickinson over the last “five games” — according to Dickinson — Howard has still played him upwards of 35 minutes a night.

When Howard was asked if this is what he thought Dickinson could be this season, he answered quickly and concisely:

“Yes,” Howard said. “But, I also expected a guy who has worked extremely hard this summer to add more to his game.”

Dickinson means everything to Michigan, and, as his game is starting to reach higher and higher peaks, so too does the Wolverines’ ceiling.

Before the season, the idea that Dickinson had expanded his range to open up the floor was a mere rumor, a hushed and excited conversation at the water cooler.

NBA scouts told Dickinson that they wanted to see more from his jump shot, more from his right hand.

“I’m not gonna force it,” Dickinson said at Big Ten media day Oct. 7 of his offensive development that NBA scouts wanted. “I’m still trying to win a national championship and whatever that takes for me is what I’m going to do.”

Not only has Dickinson expanded his range, but he’s also one of the Wolverines’ best jump shooters. And, it’s not even just his shooting. Dickinson is better at every aspect of the game, at every spot on the court. He has been having the season many expected him to, the team around him just wasn’t good enough, so the talk wasn’t there.

And that development didn’t even come at the expense of his team. Quite the opposite, actually.

Dickinson seems to know that. He’s aware that despite his team’s rocky start, they still have everything in front of them. 

“We’re not in the best position that we could be in right now,” Dickinson said. “But, everything we want is still in front of us.”

Now it’s time for him to lead them there.