May 21, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For Kansas, the team’s No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press top-25 preseason poll is no surprise. For Hunter Dickinson, the former Michigan star who joined the Jayhawks in May, the ranking is validation.

“I like it. I like people knowing it because I want them to know we’re better than them,” Dickinson told ESPN on Wednesday at Big 12 media day in Kansas City. “And they’re coming in here to try to upset us.”

Dickinson, who has never been bashful, averaged 18.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game for Michigan last season and secured All-Big Ten second-team honors. The skillful, 7-foot-2 center also made 42% of his 3-point attempts.

His versatility adds a dynamic that will make Kansas a difficult matchup for any opponent. While Bill Self has coached a multitude of talented big men in Lawrence, including current NBA MVP Joel Embiid, he said Dickinson tops the list, at least in one area.

“He’s the best offensive big I’ve ever had,” Self told ESPN. “Not the best defensive [center]. He’s got to get better: athleticism, guarding the ball screen. … ‘How are you going to utilize him in certain situations?’ But as far as, ‘Can he shoot it? Can he pass it? Can he score on the block? Can he play out of [double-teams]?’ There’s a lot of things that he does that are gifted, that hopefully we can take advantage of. Because I think he’s really, really talented.”

Michigan connected on 52.2% of its shots inside the arc with Dickinson on the floor last season, per hooplens.com. His arrival positions Self to chase his second national championship in three years.

Along with Dickinson, Kansas returns Kevin McCullar Jr., Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams Jr. — three of the top five scorers from last season’s team — on a roster that will compete for Self’s 17th Big 12 title.

The path to that league championship, however, will be more challenging this season with powerhouse Houston joining the league. Kansas will face the Cougars on Feb. 3 in Lawrence and again on March 9 in Houston in the regular-season finale for both teams. Still, the spotlight and pressure do not worry a Kansas team that hopes to cut down the nets in Phoenix, site of this season’s Final Four.

“We just have to keep coming in every day to try to get better because we know everybody else will try to get better to try to beat us because we’ve been running the league for the longest,” Harris said. “Everybody will give us their best shot.”

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