'More to prove': Hunter Dickinson explains decision to stay at Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

The statement was short and sweet: "I ain’t done yet."

That’s all it took for Hunter Dickinson to announce he was coming back to Michigan for his junior year and for the Wolverines’ 2022-23 hopes to receive a significant boost with the return of their biggest piece on the roster, literally and figuratively.

Those four words had more than one meaning for Dickinson, the 7-foot-1 center who has been the team’s leading scorer and rebounder each of the past two seasons. He isn’t done improving and adapting his game to be better prepared for the NBA. He isn’t done building a legacy and chasing a national championship. And he isn’t done capitalizing on his name, image and likeness during his time in Ann Arbor.

Hunter Dickinson said NIL opened the door for him to return to Michigan for another season.

“I just didn't I feel like I was done with college basketball yet,” Dickinson said this week on Michigan’s “Defend the Block” podcast with Brian Boesch. “I feel like I still had more out there to prove and more still to work on. I feel like when I go to the NBA eventually — I feel like I could have went last year; I know I could have went this year — but I think the biggest thing for me was when I get there, I want to be as ready as possible for the next level.

“I don't want to have to continue to work on more stuff. I want to be as ready as humanly possible. I feel like another year at Michigan would be a really good benefit for me.”

Dickinson declared for the draft after his freshman year and tested the waters before he withdrew his name. At the time, he implied that his sophomore season was going to be his last with the Wolverines.

Dickinson noted his impending decision weighed on his mind this past season. He eventually had a change of heart over the course of the year and doubled back on his proclamation, with his earning power as arguably the most recognizable student-athlete on campus playing a vital role.

More: UM's Moussa Diabate, Caleb Houstan to test NBA Draft waters

"I kind of had a feeling the way NIL was going and how I still really liked college that the door was always open for me to come back,” said Dickinson, who cashed in on several NIL opportunities, ranging from his own line of merchandise to paid partnerships on his social media accounts.

“If you would have said at the beginning of the year and asked me if I was going to come back for another year, I would have told you, ‘No way.’ But I think with NIL, that door definitely opened it up for me to come back.”

While Dickinson didn’t cite his draft stock as a factor — he was likely viewed as a mid-to-late second-round pick, at best — that undoubtedly was part of the equation that led to him announcing Sunday that he was staying in school.

This time around, though, Dickinson opted to not even go through the NBA pre-draft process again because he would’ve done so “halfheartedly.” He explained his focus is on giving it “one more shot” at Michigan and broke down several areas he wants to improve on.

► Continue to work on his body with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson

“Just trying to perfect it and sculpt it even more,” he said. “Just trying to get with Sandman every day in there just doing something, whether it's strengthening or stretching and trying to get better with that.”

► Fine-tune his low-post skills

“Perfecting my back-to-the-basket and down-low game, trying to get as good as I can,” he said. “Trying to find more moves to add to my arsenal that I can use for counters.”

► Shoot 3-pointers at a higher percentage

“I feel like I shot it decent (this year),” he said. “I remember telling people (before the season), ‘Man, I know at the minimum I can shoot 32% from 3.’ I ended up shooting like 32.9%, so I knew it. Next year I’ll try to get at least above 35. I’m aiming toward 40, but above 35 for sure.”

► Work on his mid-range jumper

“I’ve been watching the NBA and guys like (Joel) Embiid and (Nikola) Jokic, they’re able to get a lot of easier buckets and not have to do so much work with that mid-range jump shot,” he said. “Just open up, jab a couple times and shoot. Being able to score like that takes a lot of wear and tear off your body.”

► Be a better rim protector and shot blocker

“The goal for me is to try to have 2.5 blocks per game, at least. I feel like shot-blocking is something that if I put my mind to it, I’ll be much improved in that area,” he said. “I think in the first half of the season, I was more passive when it came to blocking shots. Once I changed my mindset a little bit and became more aggressive, I feel like my blocks went up. So for me, just trying to be more of a presence affecting shots and being able to be a better defender for my team and helping out my teammates more.”

Adding another chapter to his Michigan story and cementing his status in program lore also factored into Dickinson’s decision. He already has an impressive list of individual accolades — a two-time All-Big Ten selection, a second-team All-American and Big Ten freshman of the year — and has helped power the Wolverines to an Elite Eight and a Sweet 16 in his two seasons.

But getting an opportunity to climb even further up Michigan’s all-time lists and lead the team into the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament could shape how he’s remembered.

“Being so close my freshman year and then making that really fun run last year definitely just adds to wanting to come back and hopefully just try to break through and finally get to that Final Four and national championship game,” said Dickinson, whose goal is to graduate in three years. “I feel like we’re really close.

“And that legacy stuff means a good deal to me. If I continue my play, who knows what will happen with that. … I'm trying to try to leave my mark before I leave this university.”

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins