PROVIDENCE — Ask New London High head basketball coach Craig Parker about the summertime impression made by former player Kris Dunn and you will elicit a response that figures to warm the hearts of Providence College followers.
“A few things stood out to me. He was definitely stronger and his attitude was really upbeat about the upcoming season,” Parker expressed when reached Tuesday. “I think going into this season relatively injury-free as opposed to last year, he’s washed his hands of that so he can be the point guard up at Providence.”
The second part of Parker’s quote hits the nail right on the head regarding Dunn, PC’s spindly 6-foot-3 guard. When Ed Cooley gathered the Friars together for their first official workout in preparation of the 2012-13 season, Dunn was marching to the beat of his own drummer after undergoing labrum surgery on his right shoulder.
As he prepares for his second collegiate go-around, Dunn does so minus the restrictions that kept him in the equivalent of an aircraft hangar for what must have seemed like an eternity before receiving clearance for takeoff. Just seeing the youngster move confidently up and down the Alumni Hall floor during a recent practice is a clear indication that there’s much promise just waiting to be tapped.
“This year, I feel like I’m a lot more involved with the team,” Dunn said.
“Kris is ready for a lead role,” Cooley proclaimed. “We’re going to need him to be good, but I like what I’ve seen from him so far.”
For a freshman to land behind the eight-ball before officially setting foot on campus, Dunn found himself in a precarious position. The competitive gene inside of him kept igniting his wishes to feel like a fully-fledged member of the team rather than someone who was strictly viewed as “waiting in the wings.”
“Last year, all I did was rehab, so I wasn’t really involved with my teammates on the court,” Dunn recalled.
Added Parker, “I’m sure it was discouraging for Kris, suffering that injury going into his first year of college basketball. He loves the game, and unfortunately, that was a major setback for him at that point in his career.”
By the same token, Dunn had a rehab schedule to follow chapter and verse, which was a reassuring way of telling him to take care of his health and not fret too much about what was happening without him. He wasn’t going to factor in Providence’s plans when the time came to raise the curtain on a new season, meaning that there was no sense in pushing the envelope, i.e. risking a setback.
Dunn ended up logging nine straight DNPs, all coming during the first-semester portion of the schedule. His first couple months in a PC uniform featured a mixture of glimmering potential and glaring reminders that he was a mere babe in the Big East woods. For every mistake Dunn made, you had to remind yourself that in his particular case, he was thrown to the basketball wolves on the fly.
He didn’t have the benefit of offseason workouts or preseason camp, meaning this former McDonald’s All-American figured to be cut a little latitude during an atypical adjustment period.
“It was pretty obvious that when I first came in, I struggled adapting to the game,” Dunn admitted. “I didn’t have as much training or practice time as some of the others, but as the games came along and as I learned more about the game from the coaches and my teammates, I think everything went well.”
There was little doubt that Dunn was PC’s top perimeter defender the moment he became an active contributor. His 29 steals in 25 games were good for fourth best, with four of those thefts coming in a NIT win over Charlotte, a game where Dunn’s proclivity to fill up the boxscore was on full display – 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, six rebounds and nine assists.
Though he looks the part of a prototypical point guard, Dunn demonstrated that he’s far from content with the idea of directing traffic. Perhaps the most eye-catching stat from his freshman foray was the 41 offensive rebounds he secured, a total that showed that he wasn’t afraid to sacrifice his lithe body at the expense of more traditional shiners of glass.
“He’s that diversified guard that gives you a lot,” noted Cooley. “He’s more of a fundamental guy who’s going to get a lot done for us.”
Though he fell short of making USA Basketball’s Under-19 National team after flying out to Colorado in mid-June, Dunn said he was able to parlay the experience into getting ready for future hardwood confrontations. Bulking up was a main priority, with Dunn happily reporting that he now tips the scales at 199 pounds after weighing 191 at summer’s onset.
“(PC strength coach Kenneth White) made sure I maintained my weight through dieting and weight lifting,” said Dunn, who was listed at 180 pounds during his senior year of high school.
Dunn was able to return to his Connecticut roots for a brief time, with Parker passing along that there were several times when he caught his former pupil hoisting jumpers in New London’s gym.
“I’m sure he was able to work on his shot a lot more this summer. It’s an aspect of his game that I’m willing to bet he’ll continue to make progress on,” said Parker about Dunn, who in his first year with the Friars, connected on 39.8 percent of his shots from the field and 28.6 percent (4-of-14) on three-pointers.
While Dunn is the only true point guard listed on PC’s roster, he won’t be asked to bear the brunt of a heavy ball-handling load. Senior Bryce Cotton and sophomore Josh Fortune have experience in this important area, with promising freshman Brandon Austin also possessing the necessary aptitude to make those around him better.
“The more Austin learns the game, the more he’s going to excel,” said Dunn, reciting a creed that was undoubtedly told to him 12 short months ago. “My position is point guard, but we have so many pieces that we’re going to be able to run the floor.”
“I like our backcourt, I really do,” Cooley smiled.
Perhaps more than anyone, Parker is eager to see the “real” Kris Dunn perform this winter.
“I think you’re going to see something special manifest up at PC,” Parker confidently proclaimed.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03