Kris Dunn Proves He Can "Rise" To The Occasion
From His Childhood to Providence to The NBA, Kris Dunn Battles Through, No Matter How Hard Things Get
It wasn’t such a great night Friday for Kris Dunn’s team, the USA rookies and sophomores losing 155-124 to the internationals in the annual All-Star Rising Stars game. Dunn, pacing himself after a recent hiatus with a concussion, had a modest nine points and five assists. Teammate Lauri Markkanen for the winning World team had 15 points, mostly on dunks.
"Just (went) out there and had fun; shoot it when you can, don’t try to be a gunner, enjoy yourself," said Dunn. "I didn’t play for 11 games, so I was trying to work on my conditioning, too."
Dunn smiled broadly, which is something he wasn’t doing a year ago this weekend, entombed in a Minneapolis gym with Tom Thibodeau, trying to earn a few more minutes of playing time, as well as his confidence and reputation. The No. 5 selection in the 2016 NBA draft was looking like the No. 1 bust, most of the top 10 players from that draft having that All-Star fun in New Orleans while Dunn endured the bellowing of his unforgiving coach in snow covered Minneapolis.
"Thibs had me in the gym, working on my game," Dunn reminisced not so happily Friday. "Trying to get better and get ready for the rest of the season. I was more focused on how to get playing time in Minnesota (that All-Star weekend), how to improve and try to help the team win.
"Nah," Dunn shrugged about whether he was depressed about the snub, which certainly was justified as he averaged 3.8 points for the season. "I don’t get hurt by things like that."
Because not only has Kris Dunn endured worse in his much chronicled dysfunctional childhood when he and his brother were essentially abandoned, but Dunn knows and especially understands the rhythms of his life. Down is a location; not an inevitable destination.
"Sometimes you need that fall to humble yourself," he says. "It was a humble experience and then go into the summer and come back and produce; it’s big time."
Which is why even in just a 41-game audition thus far this season for the Bulls around a dislocated finger and that concussion, Dunn has been demonstrating how he, Markkanen and Zach LaVine could be one of the elite young cores of talent in the NBA and that he can be the kind of point guard who is the engine of a top team and not the anchor.
I look back all the time. It shows things can change in a year; you just have to stick with it, stay positive, work hard and try to get out of it. Right now it’s like college and high school. At first, it started off rough and then I tried to find my way, try to battle through the adversity that hits me.
Sort of deja vu all over again, as some might say.
It feels like it to Dunn with this Bulls team. He’s averaging 13.5 points and 6.3 assists this season and it feels more like the break through is coming than it had already occurred.
Because he’s seen this before.
Dunn’s story has been often told, his mother taking he and his brother from Connecticut to Virginia without his father being aware. Mom had some issues with the law, in jail at times; the brothers, nine and 14 fearing a foster home and being separated, often staying alone and hustled money to keep going until their mom got out. Eventually, their father tracked them down and got a court order to take them back to Connecticut. Though it wasn’t one of those made-for-TV movies happy endings, dad with a new family and kids. Kris was uncomfortable, suspicious, though eventually settled into the family to the point he virtually dedicated this All-Star weekend to entertaining his step sisters.
"It’s been amazing," he said. "They’re having a good time walking around. I think they got to see the Hollywood sign, too, so that was cool. There were some celebrities. Kevin Hart was here so they got to see him. I know they were pumped. They love Kevin Hart as much as I do, so it was cool."
Kris went on to excel in sports in high school, becoming the state’s best basketball player, a top national prep prospect after leading his team to the state title, averaging almost 27 points, 10 rebounds and five steals and assists each, an all around star who decided to stay close to home at Providence.
But shoulder problems resulted in surgery and averaging 5.7 points as a freshman. A bust? Then shoulder problems again as a sophomore, playing just four games all season. Sort of a mini rookie season in Minnesota?
"A lot of people talk about my journey," acknowledged Dunn. "It’s similar each and every year. It goes from high school to college to professional. I don’t know why it’s like that, but God, he gives his toughest battles to his toughest people, and I think I’m one of them. No matter how hard things get, I’m going to find a way to get out of them.
"It shows sometimes things are not going to go your way right away; that only made me stronger," said Dunn. "Physically, mentally, but also as a person. It helped me create my character as a person; so not too many things are going to get me down."
It’s perhaps one reason Dunn immediately emerged with LaVine out as that so called closer for the Bulls, the guy who wanted to take that last shot, make that big play. Failure? He’s been through that and come out on the other side. Personality traits like that aren’t taught.
Dunn as a junior at Providence proved he was worth that No. 5 draft pick that was to come. Though not right away, as most expected. The 6-4 guard was Big East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, leading the conference in assists and steals. From buying lottery tickets, he went to being a lottery pick in the NBA draft. No, but wait. There were more important things, like being the right role model for his siblings, demonstrating character in the face of temptation.
"Everyone thought I made a terrible mistake," said Dunn about deciding to return to Providence for a fourth year to get his degree. "I could have been a first round pick then and there, but I believed in my game and myself. My heart wanted me to stay and be a college kid one more time and I went with the heart."
The kid has that big heart. And wisdom.
"It was the degree," said Dunn. "I wanted to show my family, especially my two younger sisters, that getting a degree is important; it’s something you need to get to fall back on. Just because I was going to the NBA, I felt if anything happened I’d have a Plan B. I wanted to show it was important and how much it means. I’ve got a bunch of friends where I grew up, they weren’t fortunate to get that degree. I wanted to take that challenge, stay one more year and get it, make my family proud and be a role model not just for my sisters but for the community."
Now he’s anxious to do that for the Bulls.
He and Markkanen tried to have a little fun in the game Friday, Markkanen posting up Dunn one time, but the ball not coming his way.
"I wanted to get the ball and just post him up," said Markkanen. "But he didn’t isolate me, either, so it was all good. I guarded him a couple of times, but he didn’t get the ball, either."
Neither won their little contests as Dunn apparently challenged Markkanen to make five threes. He made one. Markkanen said he’d dunk on Dunn. Markkanen said he’s had more fun this weekend than he expected, though he did lose his case with the scorers when the World coach promised a bonus to anyone blocking a shot. "I know I tipped one," said Markkanen. The Worlds had zero blocks.
But the Bulls may just have a Big Three who seem to be getting to the point, or at least having the right point.
"I think this year has been more about trying to find my respect," said Dunn. "The Chicago Bulls helped me, the coaching staff, the organization, my teammates, to get my confidence back. I have to thank everyone for that. I’m glad to be in this situation. Coming to Chicago, they had open arms for me, made me feel comfortable and wanted. Right away that helped me get my confidence back, get my swagger back.
"I wanted to play right away and develop my game and improve, and we have a lot of young guys, so it’s works out well," said Dunn. "The Chicago Bulls, we are young and working hard, building a winning culture."
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