The coach had a story to share. This was August 2011, on the eve of Ed Cooley’s first season as coach at Providence and Kris Dunn’s senior season at New London (Conn.) High, and this meeting, in Cooley’s new first-floor office, was the pair’s first sit-down conversation. They had first seen each other more than a year earlier, when Cooley was an ambitious coach at Fairfield scouting a scrawny reserve AAU point guard whom teammates called Peanut. Most coaches haunting those Connecticut Basketball Club games were there to court Andre Drummond, Dunn’s 6’11” teammate and current Pistons MVP candidate, but Cooley was taken by the littler man’s coltish motor and telepathic anticipation. After being announced as the Friars’ new coach the following March, he called Dunn to tell him, “You’re the only dude in America I want.”
Now Cooley told Dunn about himself. About his childhood in South Providence. How he lacked a father figure for years until meeting his biological dad when he was a boy. About the empty refrigerator, the corn flakes with water as a substitute for milk, the desperate measures his siblings undertook to scrounge up money. He told him about how sports had saved his life and how the hunger that ruled his early years was still the engine powering him today.
“Spider-Man” is how Cooley describes his star, pressing two fingers to each palm to mimic superhero web spraying. “He’s everywhere.” That includes every early-season national player of the year short list. It’s a long way from when he was a backup called Peanut and, as with his coach, even further from the darkness that preceded.
In the four years since that meeting, Cooley has helped Dunn grow into the Big East’s reigning overall and defensive player of the year, a two-way terror whose stat-sheet-stuffing excellence has helped the Friars surge to a Top 25 ranking. At week’s end the 6’4″ Dunn ranks second nationally in steal percentage (6.3%), second in the Big East in scoring (18.2 points) and first in assists (7.3) and steals (3.6). Already this season he has told a Friars coach he was due for a triple double and then followed through the next night (vs. Hartford on Dec. 2), flirted with a quadruple double (22 points, 10 boards, nine assists and seven steals againstNJIT on Nov. 23) and hit the opening month’s most Vine-worthy game-winner, a stop-on-a-dime turnaround jumper from the right block in the Friars’ upset of then No. 11 Arizona on Nov. 27. After that game, in which Dunn scored or assisted on Providence’s final 15 points, Wildcats coach Sean Miller declared the point guard to be “out-of-this-world good.” Two days later Chris Paul sat courtside at the Honda Center for the Friars’ loss to No. 3 Michigan State, then sought Dunn out after the game to laud his defense and joke that he dreaded Dunn’s arrival in the NBA.