As Michigan men’s basketball fans glued their eyes to Twitter to see if key players would make the jump to the NBA Draft, one name — a pretty big one — was absent: Hunter Dickinson.
Now that the dust has settled on his decision process, the role of name, image and likeness deals can be distinguished.
Following a strong freshman season filled with accolades and promise for his future, Dickinson entered the NBA Draft. First team All-Big Ten, second team All-American and seven-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors substantiated the impressive season he had.
But after testing the waters, Dickinson opted to return for his sophomore year to build upon his inaugural season success. And in his returning season, he did just that.
Dickinson went into the season hoping to display improvements that warranted NBA scouts to take notice, and his impressive season certainly caught people’s attention. But in the past year, he also gained attention away from the court, signing name, image and likeness deals with multiple groups.
As Dickinson readies for his third season with the Wolverines, NIL has made all the difference.
Expectations were sky high for Michigan in 2021-22 after the Wolverines’ run to the Elite Eight in the previous season. Adding Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante’ Jones and the No. 2 recruiting class in the country only raised those expectations.
However, those high hopes quickly faded. Within the first few weeks of the season it was clear that in reality, this team was far from what it was hyped up to be.
In the chaos that was the 2021-2022 season where nothing went as expected, there was one source of consistency and production — Dickinson.
In his second season, Dickinson improved upon each statline, showing his impressive development from a freshman year campaign in which he already displayed his ability to score. But coming back for a second season, he needed to work on the skills that facilitate that scoring — particularly leadership.
Finding that leadership in a starting lineup of two graduate students and two freshmen is no easy task though. As a sophomore, Dickinson had the grueling job of figuring out how to best apply his leadership.
“This year, being a sophomore, you’re usually still kind of in that role of following somebody,” Dickinson said in an interview with The Michigan Insider. “But given the dynamic, I was thrust into being one of the leaders of the team. It was something that I definitely had to deal with, something I definitely had to improve in and work on as the season went on.”
The strides Dickinson made throughout the season in terms of his leadership skills were substantial. And they played a huge role in The Wolverines’ late-season success.
Michigan typically isn’t a “one-and-done” program. So when Dickinson decided to retain his eligibility and return for his second season, it wasn’t a complete shock.
But his decision to stay for a third season was less anticipated — and that’s where NIL comes into play.
“If you told me at the beginning of the season last year about me coming back for another year I would have told you you’re crazy,” Dickinson said. “But I think with NIL, being able to make money and still be in college, I think it’s the best of both worlds for me.”
A year ago, Dickinson didn’t have any opportunities to capitalize on his platform as a basketball player. When he chose to come back to school, that decision was based on his need to develop skills — namely 3-point shooting and right-handed post moves — and facilitate growth in hopes of being drafted the following year.
At the end of the day, if you can make it in the NBA, what’s the point of staying in an environment that prohibits compensation for your contributions?
That’s where NIL makes the difference.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to make player compensation possible, far more incentive exists for players to stay with college programs.
And Dickinson, along with other big name players, wasted no time taking advantage of that.
All around college basketball, players who would have likely entered the draft in past seasons chose the other route: returning to school.
Reigning Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe — who will reportedly make seven figures in NIL deals — opted to stay at Kentucky instead of going pro. Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, R.J. Davis and Leaky Black all announced their returns to North Carolina.
But Michigan’s assistance in helping players reach NIL goals may be a step behind other schools like UNC and Kentucky. For its athletes — Dickinson included — maximizing NIL profits remains difficult.
Being able to help with NIL matters — just look at what the Tar Heels built. In September 2021, North Carolina made headway with the first group licensing deal in college athletics. Other schools like Alabama and Ohio State soon followed suit. All of those programs have reaped the benefits of their early investment in NIL, especially the Tar Heels who saw four of their starters return this offseason.
However, the Wolverines chose not to jump on those early opportunities. It wasn’t until February 2022 that Michigan announced its VICTORS Local Exchange program to aid student athletes.
But even with the program in place, many players — who are college students and not financial experts — need more guidance.
“Michigan really doesn’t help us at all,” Dickinson said. “Michigan is so far behind. … You’re never gonna get a top-10 player again unless you’re able to provide NIL for him.”
The workload and responsibilities that student athletes must juggle is often overlooked. Between classes, school work, practices and games, players have a considerable amount on their plates. When you add NIL — which, for many Wolverine athletes, is substantial — it’s a lot to manage.
Despite the lack of aid from the University and the overwhelming nature of Michigan’s NIL structure, Dickinson has found opportunities for himself.
Over the last few months, Dickinson has taken advantage of his success. By partnering with The Players Trunk to sell his merchandise and signing sponsorship deals with groups like Bartleby and Michigan Fancard, Dickinson has worked toward maximizing his profits.
There’s a clear theme within college basketball today: If players can make money, they have a reason to stay.
And according to On3, Dickinson already has $61,000 to justify his decision.
Like many, Dickinson understands that entering the NBA Draft brings zero guarantees. Meanwhile, staying in school — even with the current NIL landscape — provides financial stability and a likelihood for partnership deals to build up.
After a season where Dickinson displayed improvements on the court, he looks to foster his growth in the coming year. But now, he won’t just look for growth in his game. He’ll also look for growth in his wallet.
Without NIL opportunities, none of that growth could have happened.