Hunter Dickinson makes 'tough decision,' withdraws from NBA Draft to return to Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

There were moments early on when Hunter Dickinson was leaning toward staying in the NBA Draft.

But as he continued to go through the pre-draft process and gave it more thought, he started to lean the other way. On Tuesday, Dickinson withdrew his name from draft consideration and announced he will return to Michigan for his sophomore season.

Hunter Dickinson (1) led Michigan in scoring (14.1 points), rebounding (7.4) and blocked shots (1.4) last season as a freshman.

“There was probably a week, a couple weeks that I thought that I was ready for the NBA, ready for the next step of my journey,” Dickinson told The Field of 68. "It was a really tough decision when you're talking about the rest of your life.

“I spent a lot of nights thinking about this decision and I just felt that coming back, doing one more year was the safest approach for me.”

According to Dickinson, there were two key factors that led to his decision. The first was he wanted to get the full college experience — like going to football games, playing in front of packed crowds and stopping to take pictures with fellow students while walking around campus — that he missed out on due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second reason was NBA teams viewed him as a potential mid-to-late second-round pick, while Dickinson viewed himself as a first-round talent.

He added the ability for college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness also played a role, calling it an “added bonus.”

“I would say up until I didn't get invited to the (NBA) combine is when it went to 50-50 for me,” Dickinson told reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday, explaining the timeline of his decision. “Then I just kept thinking about the opportunity for me here for another year…that kind of started to push it back toward coming back.

“I've always said from the start that I didn't want to be a mid-to-late second-round pick, so I wanted to stay true to myself and stay true to what I was saying from the beginning that I wanted to be a first-round pick. So, if coming back is what I've got to do, then that's what I've got to do."

The 7-foot-1 center started 23 of Michigan’s 28 games last season and was one of the top first-year players in the nation, anchoring a team that won the Big Ten regular-season title and advanced to the Elite Eight.

He averaged a team-best 14.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, shot 59.8% from the field, and did much of his damage around the rim en route to earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and consensus second-team All-American honors.

Despite all those numbers and accolades, his name didn’t appear in any prominent 2021 mock drafts. He declared for the draft in late May and participated in the G League Elite Camp, where he recorded 21 points (10-for-18 shooting) and 11 rebounds in two games at the pre-draft showcase.

Dickinson said if he was confident he would’ve been a first-round pick, he would’ve stayed in the draft. He worked out for the Sacramento Kings and Oklahoma City Thunder, but he declined other workouts after the combine.

This offseason, Chaundee Brown, Austin Davis, Isaiah Livers and Mike Smith passed on the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, with Brown, Livers and Smith entering the draft. Franz Wagner also announced he would forgo his remaining eligibility and leave early to pursue a pro career.

Dickinson took an exploratory approach by maintaining his eligibility while receiving feedback, which included NBA teams wanting to see the left-hander expand his game — he attempted just four 3-pointers and made a few jumpers last season — develop counters with his right hand and show an ability to switch on ball screens.

An early front-runner for Big Ten Player of the Year, Dickinson returns to a team that once again has national title aspirations. The Wolverines are bringing in a wave of talent, highlighted by top-50 recruits Caleb Houstan, Moussa Diabate, Kobe Bufkin and Frankie Collins; are bringing back fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks, a two-year starter; and bolstered the roster with grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones, who withdrew from the draft on Monday.

“The UCLA loss (in the Elite Eight last season) is something that I still can't live down to this day,” Dickinson said. “Usually it's at night when I start thinking about the game and replaying the key moments in that game.

“For me, to be able to rewrite that loss and have the opportunity to come back and obtain our original goal of winning a national championship, it’s something that I came back for. I didn't come back for more personal accolades; I want to win as a team this year."

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins