Hunter Dickinson, Eli Brooks Reveal Standout Newcomers In Preseason Camp
The spotlight was on Michigan Wolverines sophomore center Hunter Dickinson and fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks during Thursday's session at Big Ten Basketball Media Days in Indianapolis. However, an infusion of young talent was also the topic of conversation entering a basketball season with huge expectations.
Dickinson and Brooks project to be two of the team's leaders, but a talented freshman class and a standout transfer help fill the nucleus of a team with national title aspirations. The loftiest praise was given to Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante' Jones, who is known for his scoring flair but could be someone to watch for a different award this season.
“DeVante’ is a veteran," Brooks said. "He understands the game and has a high basketball IQ and motor. When we play in an open gym, he’s everywhere. He could be the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year with his activity. He brings it every single day, so that’s just something I can appreciate.”
Both Jones and Dickinson entered the 2021 NBA Draft evaluation process and got to know each other throughout.
“We were with the (Sacramento) Kings together and at the G-League combine," Dickinson said. "I’m glad it worked out that we were both able to come back because he’s a really cool guy off the court and somebody that you want on your team on the court. He’s a great defender. He has a really good chance of winning the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten. It was good he was able to come back with me because we’re going to need him this year."
The excitement around Jones is bolstered by the addition of Michigan's 2021 six-man recruiting class, which Rivals ranked third in the country behind Memphis and Gonzaga, respectively.
Brooks is the elder statesman in a room of young guards that include sophomore Zeb Jackson and a duo of freshmen in Frankie Collins and Kobe Bufkin. He has seen them get off to a strong start.
“Their work ethic," Brooks said on what has impressed him most. "They are in there every single day. 7 a.m., they’re in there. That’s just something you can appreciate with their work ethic and their willingness to learn. A lot of people that come in as freshmen, mess up and put their heads down right away. They’re willing to learn, they’re positive and they take the advice well."
Brooks mentioned Bufkin as the freshman guard he feels has impressed most since arriving.
“Kobe’s really impressed me," he said. "I like his game and the way he plays. He has a good feel and it’s just natural.”
French big man Moussa Diabate, who was a five-star signee and Rivals' 25th-ranked player, drew the praise of Dickinson as a potential standout.
“Moussa is a freak of nature," Dickinson said. "He’s 6-11, has long arms and is super athletic. He’s a specimen. He’s going to be really good. His best days are ahead of him and he has so much potential. He can be a really big piece for this team and somebody who can guard one through five. We can play really well and be on the floor together. He’s going to be a big piece and Coach (Juwan) Howard is really excited to have him. We’re excited to have him as a teammate, especially off the court. He’s a funny guy and we really enjoy having him here.”
The 2021 class is headlined by five-star forward Caleb Houstan, who was Rivals' fifth-ranked overall prospect in 2021. Brooks and Dickinson are impressed by his offensive game, but they are excited about what he could be turned into defensively.
“He’s a 6-8 shooter, really talented and a high-character guy," Dickinson said. "That’s what Coach Howard does well is get character guys that are going to be able to buy into the system. That’s what Caleb is. He’s good at shooting the ball, but we’re going to make him a really good defender. That’s what we like to do at Michigan. Coach Howard and Saddi (Washington) will turn him into a really good two-way player.”
The freshman class that Michigan has brought in has been an injection of excitement to a program that already has it in bunches. Dickinson said last summer's rapid-fire commitments gave them a lift in the leadup to the season.
“I remember last year, it felt like every week we were getting somebody, he said. "It was like Will (Tschetter) one day, then Caleb (Houstan) and Moussa (Diabate) and then Kobe (Bufkin). It was like a little present every week.
"It was fun for me because I want others to experience what I’m experiencing. It’s been really fun and a great journey for me, so I’m happy for those guys that are able to experience everything under Coach Howard, Coach Eisley, Coach Saddi and Coach Phil (Martelli) and get the Michigan education because it’s the best in the country.”
Despite the talent that is there, Brooks made what it will take to get on the floor and make an impact this season clear for Michigan's newcomers.
“They’re really talented and really athletic," he said. "We have a lot of freshmen and they have a lot to learn. That starts mostly on defense. We can score the ball. It’s about the techniques and different things in college because you’re not playing in high school. You’re not seeing a 2-3 zone or a 1-3-1 anymore.”
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