There's really something special going on with the Michigan basketball program right now. Juwan Howard is the perfect blend of being a players' coach, disciplinarian and teacher of the game. Assistants Phil Martelli, Howard Eisley and Saddi Washington have all settled into perfect grooves. And the team itself has a great mixture of young, experienced, athletic, skilled and smart players across the board.
One of those young, skilled and smart players is true freshman Hunter Dickinson. The 7-footer has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week seven times and because of that, has spent a lot of time answering questions. You can tell he got the most out of his high school education at DeMatha by the way he fields questions. Not only is he playing like an upperclassmen, he's handling media sessions the same way.
"I think something that [Luka Garza] does really well is how he uses his body. He’s got a big frame that he throws around really well. He’s really good at using angles. If you give him any kind of angle to get it off the backboard or something like that, he’s really good."
It almost sounds like Dickinson is talking about himself or his low-post buddy, Austin Davis. Both Dickinson and Davis are adept at using their bodies and creating angles as well. Because of that, I expect those matchups to be very fun to watch later tonight.
"I think that I have a good basketball IQ. I try to think that I’m wiser than what my age is. I try to hold myself to a high standard and demeanor. I always try to play calm and not let anyone speed me up because that’s usually when a lot of mistakes are made."
It's actually refreshing to hear a player genuinely brag on himself a little bit after doing some self reflecting. There's nothing wrong with Dickinson saying that he has a high basketball IQ and that he conducts himself like an older player, because he's 100% right. It's evident when he's on the court and when he's speaking to the media. He was a big time recruit, but he's been even better than advertised in just about every way.
"Coach Howard, Chris Hunter and the coaching staff do a really good job of instilling good habits in the big men as a whole. In the player development and the one-on-ones, I think we just do a really good job as a team with the teaching. Coach Howard is really big on details and stuff like that so I really can’t get away with anything. Even if we’re playing 5-on-5, if I mistake or something like that, he won’t ever hesitate to let me know."
This goes back to the introductory description of Juwan Howard. Over his 20+ years of being around the game at the highest level, he's turned into the perfect type of coach for today's player. He can cut loose and have fun, show the tough side and get in a player's face and teach the game because he's been there — and get respect through it all. He has a very unique background, skill set and view on life and basketball because of who he is and what he's done.
"We have a lot of basketball knowledge within our coaching staff and I think it’s safe to say that they know more than we do. As long as we trust what they have; they’ve seen it all. Coach Howard has won against Dirk Nowitzki when he was on fire with the Mavericks and that team. He’s gone against pretty much everything you can see. Phil Martelli — he’s been around the game since Mr. Naismith invented it pretty much. Just trusting those guys."
I absolutely love this response from Dickinson. He gives props, lists a couple specific examples to support his answer and even pokes fun at Martelli for being the oldest coach on the staff at 66 years of age. It just shows the chemistry between the staff and players and again, speaks to Dickinson's maturity and understanding when it comes to being coachable and getting better.
"That's when the game is the most fun, when you're on teams like [this]. You're not really focused on having to do too much for your team. You can really rely on different guys every night. You're not pressing to score 25, 30 points a game. If it's your night, it's your night. If it's not, you've got guys like Isaiah [Livers] and Franz [Wagner], even Eli [Brooks], Chaundee [Brown] and Mike [Smith]. Everybody is capable of scoring 15 points on any given night and I think that's really special and a big reason why we're so dynamic on offense and why our record is [what it is]."
Amen, Hunter. That is what makes this Michigan team so special. Seven different players have led the team in scoring this season and the team has won when its best players had off nights. That's truly the mark of a deep, balanced and dangerous team. Throw in the fact that everyone on the team seems to truly love when someone else succeeds and you have the recipe for a dangerous group come tourney time.