Incoming freshman Hunter Dickinson: Michigan still among country's best, despite 5-star losses

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Michigan fans were hitting the panic button last week when the team whiffed on five-star recruits Joshua Christopher and Isaiah Todd.

But after Christopher committed to Arizona State and Todd decommitted to sign a deal with the G League, signee Hunter Dickinson isn’t worried because he thinks the Wolverines are still in sound shape.

Dickinson even did his best to calm down the fan base by tweeting out a picture of Juwan Howard and imploring everyone to keep the faith in the second-year coach.

Hunter Dickinson

“Yeah, we lost two top-10 kids. (Losing) Isaiah was probably hard for Michigan fans because he was committed for so long, but I think Michigan fans need to realize that we’ve got a pretty good class and team,” Dickinson said in a YouTube interview with “The Front Office.”

“Our class that we've got coming in — me, Zeb (Jackson), T (Terrance Williams) and Jace (Howard) — we’re pretty good ourselves. Then we've also got Mike (Smith) coming in from Columbia. I think that team alone would be good.”

That doesn’t include returning starter and senior-to-be Eli Brooks as well as rotation pieces Brandon Johns Jr. and Austin Davis. And it’s also possible both Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers, two of the team’s top four scorers last season, will be back next season.

Livers already has declared for NBA Draft while maintaining his eligibility. Wagner has yet to announce his decision and will have until Sunday to decide whether he wants to enter his name for draft consideration.

“I think our team is definitely going to be one of the best teams in the country,” Dickinson said. “We lost two good players, but I think even without them we’ve got Juwan Howard. I think him, Coach (Phil) Martelli, Coach (Saddi) Washington, Coach (Howard) Eisley are the best coaches in the country. I think they can do good with anything, but I think we definitely have the talent to get to the top in the country.”

Michigan’s 2020 class — which features three four-star signees and top-100 recruits in Dickinson, Jackson and Williams — leads the Big Ten and ranks No. 8 in the nation, per 247Sports.

Dickinson is the top prospect in Michigan’s incoming wave of talent. The 7-foot-2 center is ranked the nation’s No. 32 overall recruit and is the Big Ten’s highest-rated incoming freshman, according to the 247Sports composite.

Dickinson was being pursued by plenty of programs since his freshman year at Maryland’s DeMatha Catholic. He was even being recruited by former coach John Beilein, but Dickinson doesn’t know if he would’ve come to Ann Arbor if it wasn’t for Howard.

“With Juwan being there, I took my visit and something I really remembered was him and his personality,” said Dickinson, who committed to Michigan over Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame in December.

“Being around him was really fun. He's really enjoyable to be around. Hearing him talk about the university, how much he loves it, the time he had there, he really enjoyed it. That was something I took as, 'Wow, this man actually went to the university, played there, he was at my position.' I feel like out of all the coaches, his is the most relatable story.”

Williams, Dickinson’s longtime AAU teammate, had a similar experience. After he decommitted from Georgetown in December, Howard was the first one to call. Then when Williams took an official visit to Michigan later that month, he committed before he left campus because he loved the way Howard carried himself.

"I think it's just like he's very, very honest and he's very, very genuine and real,” Williams said last month. “Like when I was on my visit, he interacted with all the fans. Any fan that wanted a picture, he got a picture with. Anybody that wanted an autograph, he got an autograph for. He talked to everybody.

“Like we were getting stopped and Coach Martelli is like, 'You can't keep taking pictures because you're holding everybody up.' But that's how Juwan is. He's a genuine person and that's something I loved about him.”

For Dickinson, getting the chance to work with Howard and Eisley, who both spent over 20 years in the NBA as players and assistant coaches, on a regular basis was just as appealing.

The same goes for working with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson, who has played an instrumental role in helping develop numerous ex-Wolverines into NBA Draft picks over the last decade.

“Coach Howard obviously being the big man coach during practice, being able to get coached by somebody who played in the NBA is something that's significant to me and different from all the other schools,” Dickinson said. “Having Coach Sanderson, who's one of the best strength coaches in the country, also playing for Ohio State so he played basketball and he knows what we go through, I think him developing me will probably be the most important thing.

“But also with Coach Eisley, he coached in NBA, so he, like Juwan, knows what it takes to get there. I feel like with him pushing me to improve my guard skills that big three of them will probably be the most important thing for me in developing my game.”

And with the pieces in place — from the top down — Dickinson feels Michigan will be fine despite last week’s tough breaks.

"Be excited for next season,” Dickinson said, “because it should be a good one."

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins