It would appear — following weeks of cryptic podcasts, shaky rumors, and much speculation — that Hunter Dickinson has secured the bag.
And while it’s not great news for, say, Michigan, or any of the other schools he was considering (more on that in a bit), it signals a tremendous win for college basketball players in this new NIL landscape.
Dickinson’s transfer bolsters Kansas’ roster and makes the Jayhawks one of the favorites to win the national championship (which is a fairly dull, evergreen statement at this point). What’s much more interesting is how Hunter managed to fully leverage the fame and notoriety he accumulated as a college player to both continue his playing career and actually make some money in the process.
Dickinson shook up the college basketball world when he made the decision to forgo another season at Michigan and enter the transfer portal. While entering the portal has become more and more commonplace, it’s rare for a player of Dickinson’s All-American stature at a program as respected as Michigan to suddenly become available.
Naturally, a lot of buzz was created. And while prior to NIL, players would be unable to capitalize on that buzz, Dickinson was all over it, controlling the narrative of his recruitment from start to finish using his own monetized media platforms. My man even links out to his Cameo account in his Twitter bio, which is a hustle I gotta respect.
Hunter is the co-host of the RoundBall Podcast and throughout his weeks-long recruitment has been providing cryptic updates to thirsty, thirsty college basketball fans. The spectacle definitely rubbed some the wrong way, particularly when Hunter teased that he might announce on the podcast to draw listeners in what turned out to be a fakeout.
But we can thank him for informing me and others about the existence of something called the “Boom Boom Room” in Lawrence, Kansas which is described by an alum as “A wild time machine. No windows. Just lights, lasers, music, and an absolute loss of time awareness. You can be in there for what feels like five minutes, but they’ve already played ‘Mr. Brightside’ four times and you’ve danced with half of the people on campus.”
Admittedly like most things I found cool in college, it sounds pretty lame.
While we’ve all always known men’s college basketball is all about money, NIL really has done away with all pretense that other things matter. You can choose to view that through a lens of tragedy or refreshing honesty. But it’s been laid bare with how fans of schools rallied their donors for money to secure Hunter’s commitment.
Kentucky was reportedly in the driver’s seat for his commitment, but things reportedly soured when the school wouldn’t guarantee NIL money.
Of course, there were other suitors including Villanova, Georgetown and a very, very hopeful Maryland fanbase.
On the surface, the Terps felt like an odd fit for Dickinson given that they return their center and power forward next season. But given that Hunter is a Maryland native who attended high school just miles from campus, excitement began to build about a possible homecoming.
This was quite a change of heart, given Dickinson had become somewhat of a villain in recent years while playing for conference rival Michigan. He even spoke directly on his podcast in January about living rent-free in the heads of Maryland fans:
Dickinson had complained in the past about Maryland not recruiting him hard enough out of high school, so it seemed they weren’t going to make the same mistake this time around. Fans opened their hearts and Twitter fingers urging Dickinson to commit, only for him to break their hearts once again.
If it wasn’t clearly apparent yet, it’s obvious now that free agency is now a thing in college basketball — on the women's side, too. Just ask Hailey Van Lith and LSU.
Of course, purists will say players being compensated properly for their value is ruining the game for… reasons. They’ll point to the rich becoming richer—even though we just experienced the most upset-laden March Madness in history.
But young athletes learning to maximize their value and use the money behind major institutions to their advantage is only a good thing. Because very, very few athletes end up making a living playing professional sports. Even those who do aren’t always financially set due to injuries or other circumstances. We should all be rooting for every athlete to secure the bag whenever they can.
Hunter Dickinson is really good at basketball — he averaged 18 points and nine rebounds in the loaded Big Ten last season — but by all accounts, he’s not poised to be an NBA star. Generally, most players in his position might just preserve their health and declare for the draft anyway before settling for a career overseas. But because of the emergence of NIL, college experience — and fame — now has tangible value in a way it never had before.
For a long time, college programs had near-total control over their athletes. We were well overdue for a pendulum shift and this recruitment may very well signal that.