Hunter Dickinson's success at Michigan no surprise to Iowa star Luka Garza
There aren’t many freshmen in college basketball who step in and make an immediate impact from Day 1 like Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson.
While Dickinson’s success this season might’ve come sooner than some expected, it hasn’t surprised Iowa senior star Luka Garza one bit.
“It's really impressive to see what he's done,” Garza said ahead of Thursday’s top-10 matchup between Michigan and Iowa. “I think anybody from the DMV (Washington D.C./Maryland/Virginia) would've told you that was going to happen. He's been very elite for a while.”
Garza and Dickinson grew up in the Washington metropolitan area and came through the same AAU program, Team Takeover. Despite the age difference, Dickinson’s team practiced with Garza’s team and he often played above his age group.
For reference, Garza didn’t play 17U until after his junior year in high school. Dickinson, on the other hand, was playing 17U on the Nike EYBL circuit as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
"There were always some kids who we'd take and have someone play up," Garza said. "He played up quite a bit and it was impressive."
Dickinson has often credited his time with Team Takeover and playing at DeMatha Catholic in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference for preparing him for the college game and giving him an edge on the competition.
When he arrived at Michigan, nothing shocked him. He was already used to playing with top talent on Team Takeover — starting alongside high-major guys in Armando Bacot (North Carolina), Anthony Harris (North Carolina), Justin Moore (Villanova) and Jeremy Roach (Duke) — and going up against Division I players on a nightly basis in the WCAC, which Garza called the best high school league in the country.
“He's mature beyond his years because of him playing at that level,” Garza said. “Honestly he's been playing at a very high level of basketball for a while now.
“When you play at that level of competition, it's no surprise when you see guys from the DMV exceeding at this level. It feels like every time I turn on the TV, I'm watching another person that I played against or I know doing very well. I think he's a really, really good player. He's been that way since he was young.”
Even after those AAU days, Garza and Dickinson have continued to work out and battle against one another behind closed doors. This past spring, the two participated in training sessions with Team Takeover coach Keith Stevens and other program alumni like former Maryland standout Jalen Smith.
Garza noted he and Dickinson are similar in ways because they’re both bigs who excel in the post, have touch around the rim and can stretch the floor a little bit. Others have taken notice, too. After Michigan’s home win over Minnesota last month, coach Richard Pitino compared Dickinson to Garza due to his ability to quickly get to his spots and into his post moves before the defense could do anything.
And like Garza, Dickinson has received no shortage of praise and accolades along the way as the leading scorer on the nation’s No. 3-ranked team.
“He's one of the best centers in the country,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “He's good in the low post. He's a good passing big man. He runs well. He's physical.
“Dickinson is tremendous. He could be the top freshman in the country right now.”
Four double-doubles. A team-best 15 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. A program record-tying seven Big Ten freshman of the week awards. Several standout performances against ranked foes.
Garza wouldn’t have expected anything less.
“I think everyone from the DMV, if you ask anybody from there, you thought this was coming,” Garza said. “He's that type of player. He was dominant in high school.
“It's been awesome to see what he's been able to do so far in his career.”