KU’s Hunter Dickinson says he has ‘love/hate relationship’ with Illini basketball fans

Former Michigan men’s basketball center Hunter Dickinson competed against the University of Illinois Fighting Illini four times over the past three seasons.

His Wolverines lost all four of those games.

“I know my record versus them isn’t great, so I definitely want to get that win,” Dickinson, a 7-foot-2, 260-pound senior said at Wednesday’s KU basketball media day at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Big 12’s preseason player of the year, who announced his transfer from Michigan to Kansas on May 5, soon gets another chance to play the Illini, this time as a first-year member of the Jayhawks.

KU will meet Illinois in a Maui Relief exhibition game at 5 p.m., Sunday, at State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois.

“To get that win would be great for me. It’ll be something I know Illinois Twitter will remind me when I get there in Champaign,” he added of his 0-4 mark.

“They are a very talented (preseason No. 25-ranked) team. Having it being aired on Big Ten Network, I think the country will be watching to see how the preseason No. 1 team plays against another top ranked team. For us to go in there and do well and make a statement would be big for us, and I think that would give us a lot of momentum going into the season.”

Here’s a look at Dickinson’s performance in four games — all losses to the Illini.

He scored 31 points on 14-of-21 shooting and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds in Michigan’s 91-87 double overtime loss to Illinois on March 2, 2023 in Champaign. He had three assists, three blocks and five turnovers in that game.

Dickinson, who was ill, did not play in a 68-53 loss to the Illini on Jan. 14, 2022 in Champaign. He scored 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 93-85 loss to the Illini on Feb. 27, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

As a freshman, Dickinson scored six points on 1-of-8 shooting with five rebounds in a 76-53 loss to the Illini on March 2, 2021 at Michigan.

Illini fans like to remind Dickinson that he’s winless versus their favorite team. In Oct. 21 at Big Ten basketball media day he was quoted as saying: “Illinois fans are pretty annoying, I’m not going to lie.”

Also at that media day Dickinson was quoted as saying: “They (Illini fans) just act like they are some powerhouse in the Big Ten and they’re really not.”

“I mean I think it’s a love/hate relationship between me and the (IllinoisI) fans. I might have said some things I regret, some things that I might not regret in some Tweets and some quotes,” Dickinson told The Star Wednesday. “They are a fiery fan base. They really love their Illinois hoops there.

“They are passionate fans, and so when you have a passionate player like me meeting a passionate opposing fan base, I think that’s cause for some love-hate relationship with me.”

Dickinson doesn’t mind playful banter with opposing teams’ fans.

“Being used to being in the spotlight, especially in college, just being one of the top players on my team, a lot of the opposing fan bases know who you are, know stuff about you,” he said. “It’s a matter of embracing it. If people are going to hate you, you might as well lean into it a little bit and have them hate you a little bit more.”

Dickinson said he does “miss the Big Ten a little bit. Being able to go back there, especially on the road, will be super fun.”

“It’s a very competitive league. I know the speed and pace of the game is probably higher (in Big 12) than the Big Ten. That’s something I wanted to join into when I was in my transfer process. I’m excited for that. It (playing in Big 12) will be good for me but with the team we have good for all of us as well.”

KU coach Bill Self wasn’t referring to Dickinson’s comments concerning the Illini fans specifically, but at the recent Big 12 media day did acknowledge the fact KU’s new center from Alexandria, Virginia, can be colorful around the media.

“The thing about Hunter,” Self said, “he’s a unique individual. If you put a microphone in front of him and ask him a question unfortunately he answers it. They tell me, ‘Hey no comment,’ and I’ve actually gotten pretty good at that. With him there ain’t a no comment.

“Just so you know I think the thing that’s great about him is personality — you don’t want to take that away, but I also think there’s a time where you let your play also do your talking. Not that he talks too much or has talked too much but he’s been at Michigan three years and he’s here now and to me instead of being a soundbite it’s time to be a guy that everybody looks at and says, ‘Thats a bad boy right there.’”

Redshirt junior point guard Dajaun Harris said of Dickinson: “He is the biggest dude on our team. He’s goofy. He’s funny. He’s what you want to be as a teammate. Without him we probably won’t have any personality. He makes the locker room fun.”

He plans on having fun Sunday in a practice game against what he calls “a very good team, They have a lot of new guys. They run good sets, put pressure on the defense and make you work offensively. It’ll be a good test for us. Hopefully we’re better for it.”