The coronation of a top basketball recruit tends to follow a certain path.
First, the player breaks out on the summer grassroots circuit and becomes a national commodity. Next, he earns honors like being named a McDonald's All-American. After that: the stress of every prominent college coach in the country trying to get a piece of you. By the time NBA scouts show up at practices, the dream of a future as a pro becomes real.
Kris Dunn was on this exact path. He was a McDonald's All-American and consensus top 20 recruit in the class of 2012, just behind Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett and Marcus Smart and ahead of players like T.J. Warren and Gary Harris. He ignored calls from Rick Pitino and dreamed of playing at North Carolina, but eventually narrowed his college choices to UConn and Providence.
When he picked the Friars, it was set to usher in a new golden era of Providence basketball. Coach Ed Cooley pulled off a remarkable one-two punch in recruiting, landing a blue-chip backcourt tandem of Dunn and Ricky Ledo. With the Big East on the brink of change, Providence had a foundation that could rule the league.
Things didn't work out as planned. Ledo never played a game for the Friars because the NCAA deemed him academically ineligible and Dunn tore the labrum in his right shoulder just before the start of the season. He returned to play 25 games at the end of his freshman year, but averaged just five points per game.
The next year promised new dreams, until Dunn dove for a loose ball in an exhibition game against Rhode Island and injured his right shoulder once again. Surgery sidelined him for the season and he was forced to watch backcourt teammate Bryce Cotton nearly lead Providence to an upset over UNC in the Round of 64.
At this point it was seemed fruitless to project Dunn's basketball future. Many of the players he sat with atop of the 2012 recruiting rankings were playing in the NBA and he couldn't even stay on the floor in college. Providence never gave up hope, and Cotton's graduation allowed Dunn every opportunity to show he could be a star this year.
It was a long process to get to this point, but Kris Dunn has finally arrived. As the Friars open the Big East Tournament on Wednesday against St. John's, Dunn has established himself as the conference's most electrifying player and its best NBA prospect. On the brink of the NCAA Tournament, Dunn is ready to get the recognition he should have received years ago.
Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports
What makes Dunn so special? You can start with his physical gifts. At 6'3 and with a 6'8 wingspan, he comes at opposing point guards with the length of a wing and the speed of a guard. He's also earned a reputation for having arguably the quickest hands in the country.
Those hands are put to good use defensively. Dunn finished the regular season No. 5 in the country in steal rate, according to KenPom.com, and was named the Big East's co-Defensive Player of the Year. He's developed a knack for reaching around an offensive player to strip the ball with one hand and then take off down the court for a transition basket.
Watch Dunn enough and you've seen that play a number of times this season. For some reason, Dunn always seems to save his best for the second half of games.
Dunn's breakout year didn't really begin until conference play. On January 6 at Butler, Dunn scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half and added eight rebounds and six assists in the upset win. A week later, he scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half and added eight rebounds and seven assists in a win over Creighton.
It's been a trend throughout the year. When Providence found itself trailing by eight at the break against Seton Hall last week, Cooley challenged Dunn to take over after a scoreless first half. He scored 17 points in the final 20 minutes to power Providence to a comfortable win.
He was even better in the regular season finale on Saturday, even though the Friars fell to Butler. Dunn played a remarkable second half, nearly willing his team back in the game by himself. Twenty-three points, six assists and three steals later, Dunn's dominant two-way play was the talk of the afternoon.
There aren't five players in the country that can take over a game like Kris Dunn can. What a player.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 7, 2015
WHAT THE **** DID KRIS DUNN JUST DO JESUS.— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) March 7, 2015
Kris Dunn’s world right now. We’re all just paying rent #pcbb— Terrence Payne (@terrence_payne) March 7, 2015
Dunn showcased the full package: patient-yet-decisive decision-making in the pick and roll, a quick first step, top-flight end-to-end speed and suffocating pressure defense. Providence lost the game, but it seemed like Dunn was everywhere at the same time.
He was quarterbacking the offense on one end and locking down entire parts of the floor on the other. Butler made a conscious effort to avoid the part of the floor Dunn was defending, as if he was a dominant shutdown corner like Richard Sherman. It didn't always work.
There's was nothing Butler could really do about it. It's been that way for a lot of teams this season.
Dunn has been one of the best guards in college basketball alongside Notre Dame's Jerian Grant, Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell and Utah's Delon Wright. His assist rate of 49 percent is No. 1 in the country, according to KenPom. While Dunn's numbers as a pick-and-roll ball handler don't match the lofty reputation he's developed (he's only in the 50th percentile in points per possession when finishing in the P&R, according to Synergy Sports), there's a reason so many people think he game translates perfectly to the next level. His ability to read the floor seems preternatural.
If Dunn put up these numbers as a freshman, he'd have a bigger profile. Instead, those injury setbacks allowed him to slip under the radar. Dunn will turn 21 years old the day before the start of the NCAA Tournament, but it feels like his basketball career is being reborn.