Projected as first-round pick in 2015, talented point guard decided to stay for his degree and to get his game NBA ready
POSTED: May 27, 2016 11:56 AM ET
Kris Dunn averaged 16 points, 6.4 assists and 2.5 steals to earn All-America honors and Big East's Player of the Year.
Providence guard Kris Dunn should forevermore be the NCAA's poster boy for staying in school and earning a degree despite overwhelming pressure to take a chance in the NBA Draft.
Turning professional would have been the easy move for Dunn to make in 2015, after the 6-foot-4, 220-pound point guard racked up monster numbers (247 assists, 90 steals) and collected a trophy room's worth of awards in his first full season as a college player -- All-America, Big East Player of the Year, Big East Defensive Player of the Year, etc. But Dunn, whose first two seasons were hampered or cut short by a shoulder injury, conducts his business a certain way, no shortcuts included.
Still, when Providence coach Ed Cooley spoke with Dunn after his breakout 2014-15 season, he was taken aback by what he heard.
"He told me 'coach, I'm not ready for the NBA,' " Cooley said. 'The one thing I want people to always remember after I leave Providence is that I graduated. I don't want people thinking it's all about the money. They can't take away a degree.' "
Cooley would have advised Dunn, projected as a top-20 first-round NBA Draft pick, to leave.
"I didn't want him to get hurt," Cooley said. "He was coming off two torn labrum surgeries. He went through such adversity to get to where he was. He didn't play much his first two years. Then his mom dies. He went through such adversity to get to where he is right now. And for him to see the bigger picture versus the present, to want to stay and get his degree ... that, to me, spoke volumes about his character."
I felt like I made a great decision for myself and my family.
– Providence's Kris Dunn
A lot of times, when good college players -- some of them ready, some not -- declare for the Draft, part of their reasoning is to help their families. For Dunn, the opposite was true. He wanted to help his family, but to do that he decided the smart play was to stay in school.
"I just wanted to graduate," Dunn said last week before Providence's appearance in the NCAA tournament. "And I just wanted to be a good role model for my two little sisters. They are about to go into high school, and I wanted to show them the importance of education."
Dunn was also smart enough to realize that, despite his projection as a first-round pick, his game wasn't yet up to NBA standards. He didn't want to take a team's money and learn on the job, or worse, sit on the bench and watch. He wanted to be ready. He wanted to mature and improve.
To do that, Dunn knew he had to harness his ability, to tone down his aggression -- as strange as that may sound -- tighten up his decision-making and decrease his turnovers. He also wanted to shoot a higher percentage from distance.
Draft Combine: Kris Dunn
Providence's Kris Dunn speaks at the NBA Draft Combine.
He accomplished his goals this season, but it wasn't easy. First there was the weight of expectations after the season he produced -- Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook chose him as its national preseason player of the year and he made several preseason All-America teams. Providence had suffered heavy personnel losses from an NCAA tournament team, and Dunn would be the opposing team's No. 1 target.
Despite the heavy defensive attention, Dunn led the Friars to a strong start. They won 14 of their first 15 games, and though they struggled in the Big East Conference, especially after Dunn fell ill with a lingering flu bug, they accomplished enough to earn their third straight NCAA bid. And once again, after averaging 16 points, 6.4 assists and 2.5 steals, Dunn earned All-America honors and was chosen the Big East's player and defensive player of the year.
In the tournament, the Friars defeated USC before losing to No. 1 seed North Carolina. With the season complete, Dunn, who had a year of eligibility remaining, finally declared for the Draft. Degree in hand, his perimeter stroke improved and his turnovers reduced, Dunn deemed himself ready. NBA scouts agree.
NBA.com's David Aldridge rates Dunn the No. 1 point guard in the Draft by a slight margin over Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray, citing the reasoning of player personnel directors, who think Dunn is the better athlete and defender.
Those NBA executives would get no argument from Cooley.
"All season long, Kris was the best player on the floor," Cooley said. "It didn't matter who we played. Arizona. Michigan State. North Carolina. He was clearly the best player on the floor. He's just a dominant, dominant guard."
Dunn's insistence on following a plan, on earning his degree and shoring up his weaknesses, paid off in the long run. And in trying to become a role model to his sisters, perhaps he'll be a role model for other college players who are undecided about giving up eligibility for the Draft.
The one thing I want people to always remember after I leave Providence is that I graduated. I don't want people thinking it's all about the money. They can't take away a degree.
– Providence's Kris Dunn
North Carolina coach Roy Williams has had numerous players leave college with eligibility remaining. But his own Brice Johnson, who stayed four years and put together his best season as a senior, improved his draft stock by being patient. Williams, asked before Providence and North Carolina played in the NCAAs about Dunn's decision, could speak from experience.
"Kris really had to have a tough decision because he could have gone last year and could've been a first-round pick," Williams said. "I don't think [staying in school] hurt him. He's enjoyed his life and made a decision what he wanted to do and that's the way it should be done. ... There's no perfect rule.
"I don't think anybody will say LeBron or Kobe or those guys [who jumped to the NBA out of high school before the one-and-done rule] made bad decisions. You have to look at it on an individual basis to see what you want. There's no perfect rule, but I think Kris really helped himself. It made him feel good, and he did what he wanted to do."
Dunn has no regrets.
"I felt like I made a great decision for myself and my family," he said. "This year has been fun. The beginning of the year we came out hot and then ran into some bumps in the road, but we were able to bounce back. I really don't regret my decision."
Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.