Freshman Hunter Dickinson gets 'locked in,' has impressive debut for Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Hunter Dickinson admitted there were a few butterflies fluttering around in his stomach.

But those pregame jitters faded as soon as the freshman center stepped onto the Crisler Center floor and checked into Wednesday’s season opener.

“Right when you get in the game, it instantly goes away,” Dickinson said after Michigan’s 96-82 win over Bowling Green. “You get locked in. It's just a basketball game and you're out there with four other guys who you've been playing with for months now. It felt really at home with me out there."

Dickinson certainly looked at home, too. The 7-foot-1 big wasn’t fazed by the stage, something he credited to playing in big games on the AAU circuit, like Peach Jam, and at DeMatha Catholic, one of the top prep basketball programs in the nation.

He was efficient, effective and kept things simple in his Michigan debut. He tallied 11 points, eight rebounds — three on the offensive end — and a block while going 4-for-7 from the field in 18 minutes of action.

Michigan center Hunter Dickinson pulls down one of his eight rebounds in front of Bowling Green guard Cam Young (10) in Wednesday's season opener.

The Wolverines outscored the Falcons by 11 points when Dickinson was on the floor, which trailed only senior forward Isaiah Livers’ plus-20 rating. It all made for quite the 20th birthday celebration and first impression.

"He just looked comfortable out there, man,” coach Juwan Howard said. “He looked like — back in the NBA we call that a seasoned vet. A guy being a young rookie that just looked like he belonged, like he's been here before.”

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While transfers Mike Smith and Chaundee Brown shined the brightest of Michigan’s newcomers on opening night, Dickinson had his notable moments.

He arrived with a reputation for being a skilled passer, especially for someone his size, and he put that on display. In the first half, he zipped a pass over a Bowling Green defender from the left baseline to the right wing, which led to a clean 3-point look for Livers. Then in the second half, he whipped an outlet pass to Brown at midcourt that generated another scoring opportunity and deep ball, this time from senior guard Eli Brooks.

“That's something that Coach Howard told me on his recruiting pitches how he was going to use me in the offense, not only as a scorer but a passer as well,” Dickinson said. “I think we really worked on that in practice, making reads, especially in the press. We did a really good job of game planning that, going through it in practice and just preparing for their press, so I was able to see my offensive players out there.”

He also showed off his footwork, touch and finishing ability around the rim. On one possession, he got inside position in the post, caught the entry pass over one defender, and turned and finished over two Bowling Green players. On another possession, he got the ball on the right block, took two dribbles and made a quick move to beat a defender for a layup while moving across the lane.

Howard credited fifth-year senior center Austin Davis for teaching, preparing and helping Dickinson acclimate well to both ends of the floor at the college level. Davis made his first career start and finished with two points and six rebounds in 13 minutes.

“When you compete against a guy like Austin Davis in practice,” Howard said, “it's truly going to give you an edge and Hunter has that edge about him.”

Added Dickinson: “Having to freaking bang into Austin every day, it's a big task. To be able to lay that punishment on somebody else was really fun for a change.”

As comfortable as Dickinson looked on the floor, he was equally at ease coming off the bench in his first game. He was viewed as a potential Day 1 starter to fill Jon Teske’s vacant spot, but Howard told him in advance Davis was getting the nod against Bowling Green.

That can always change moving forward, especially if Dickinson continues to stack up outings like Wednesday as the competition picks up.

“I trust (Howard) 100% with everything. Me and him see very eye-to-eye on everything,” Dickinson said. “We have very good conversations so there's nothing that I don't know or I'm guessing. Everything is transparent with us.

“I'm still working my way back. I had a couple setbacks so I'm perfectly fine with (not starting). Right now, I'm just trying to play as good as I can and make the most out of my minutes.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins