Kris Dunn should forever be the NCAA poster player for reaping the benefits of an additional year of school and college basketball. By returning for his redshirt junior season, the star point guard not only will graduate from Providence College in May, but also enhanced his standing in the upcoming NBA Draft to lottery-pick status.
Dunn is widely considered the best NBA prospect among those showcasing their talent this week in the NCAA Tournament Raleigh Regional. He also is the one player few expected to be playing on the PNC Arena court, or any other, around the country this postseason.
Dunn bucked the norm. He went against the sage advice of his college coach and his father. You would be hard pressed to name the previous college player projected to be a first-round pick who turned down his dream – not to mention a couple or so million dollars – to instead attend classes and further advance his game.
Yet it all worked out better than anyone could have imagined for Dunn.
“I’ve seen a lot of players go out there one-and-done and got lost in the NBA and they felt like they should have stayed one more year,” Dunn said Wednesday. “Another year for anybody is only going to help you. Everybody in college feels like you need to go, but one more year never hurts anybody because you’re learning more about the game and you’re learning more about yourself.”
Ed Cooley is the fifth-year Providence head coach who sat down for a man-to-man talk with Dunn following the 2014-15 season. Cooley had done his homework. He knew Dunn was projected by NBA scouts to be a first-round pick. Cooley also knew Dunn had previously endured two surgeries on the same shoulder and ran the risk of another injury in college that could shatter his NBA dream.
Being selected in the middle of the first round means a guaranteed two-year salary with an NBA team of somewhere between $2.5 million and $4 million. For a young man from an impoverished background, that represented a lot of coin to walk away from.
“I told him he should leave last year, given the circumstance of his injury,” Cooley said. “I do not want this young man to be hurt under my watch. I don’t know if I would have been able to live with myself.”
Cooley was stunned by the response from Dunn.
“I don’t want to just be drafted,” Cooley recalled Dunn telling him. “I want to be a professional player, and I’m just not there yet, physically, skill level.”
Dunn’s thinking was that in three years at Providence, he had essentially played only one full season. While injuries sidelined him for the end of the 2012-13 season and all of 2013-14, he displayed enough talent throughout 2014-15 to gain the notice of NBA scouts.
Even though he earned Big East Conference player of the year and defensive player of the year honors, Dunn did not believe he was ready for the NBA. His workouts this past offseason at Nike’s Basketball Academy with the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis confirmed that he had a ways to go in better learning and understanding the game.
Then there was his family.
“I wanted to finish school,” Dunn said. “I just wanted to graduate and be a good role model for my two little sisters. They are about to go into high school, so I just wanted to show them the importance of education.”
Money, he said, was not an issue.
“My dad always told me, if you’re poor this year, you can wait one more year,” Dunn said of his father, John Seldon.
It helps that the NCAA sets up million-dollar insurance policies for athletes against career-ending injuries that are paid for by the school. So, Dunn had some assurance that he would not be left penniless in the event of a serious injury.
Then he went about completing his course studies in social science and elevating his play on the court. He again earned Big East player and defensive player of the year honors. He now is considered a lottery pick.
NBA scouts are not allowed to comment about players who have not declared for the draft, which Dunn has not. But one NBA scout gave this report on the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Dunn: “The reason people like Dunn so much is he’s a big guard who can play point guard, and he’s a terrific defensive player,” the scout said. “He’s got tremendous activity. Plays very hard. He’s a factor on both ends of the court, and with a lot of younger players you can’t really say that. With him, you can.”
In a few months, Dunn will have graduated from college and will be looking at a two-year, guaranteed NBA contract worth anywhere from $4.5 million to $6 million. As Dunn said, his decision to return to Providence for one more season was “phenomenal.”
The NCAA should soon begin marketing Dunn’s story.