His spring-boarding takeoffs toward the rim for thunderous two-handed dunks have become a regular sight during Virginia’s campaign.
Cavaliers freshman Ryan Dunn has already earned himself a few standing ovations from the John Paul Jones Arena faithful for the way he can powerfully throw the ball through the bottom of the net. His athleticism and intelligence enabled him to contribute effectively on defense, too, and Dunn insists he was prepared for the role he’s filled off the bench in his first-go around with No. 13 UVa, which is the No. 2-seed in this week’s ACC Tournament and opens postseason action in the league quarterfinals on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“I’m able to adapt easy,” Dunn said.
And that trait is ingrained in the 6-foot-8, 208-pounder.
Virginia is only the latest stop in Dunn’s traversing basketball career. Ahead of arriving at UVa, Dunn had stints with three different high school programs — Baldwin High (N.Y.), Oak Hill Academy (Va.) and Long Island Lutheran (N.Y.), which is better known as LuHi — in addition to one with a postgraduate team at the Perkiomen School in Pennsylvania.
People are also reading…
“I went from being at home my freshman year [at Baldwin] to going to [Oak Hill in] Virginia at 16,” Dunn said, “and it was totally different, but it helped me learn to adjust and grow up, so that once I got to college it’d be easier.”
He figured out how to make new friends at each destination, he said, and break free from the shy-at-first-encounter personality he said he has. Dunn said he had a jump on the college lifestyle as well while living away from home, which aided him in his move to UVa.
His favorite place to play as prep star was as a junior and senior with LuHi, though, where Dunn said his family and friends on Long Island could see him whenever he took the floor. But even then, there was on-the-court acclimating to do like he experienced and was necessary everywhere else.
“Transition is a big thing,” Dunn said. “You have to learn what the coaches want and I feel like with me going from different coaches to different coaches and seeing how different they are, I think it’s been easy to adjust [to playing at UVa] for me.”
Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett agreed.
Dunn has appeared in 27 of UVa’s 29 contests and he goes into the ACC Tournament following encouraging consecutive efforts to close the regular season. He tallied 10 points and five rebounds in 17 minutes against Clemson and nine points and three boards in 19 minutes against Louisville last week.
“When a guy understands, ‘This is what this team needs. This is where I’m at,’ and he values that and we value that, that’s a nice combination,” Bennett said. “We need Ryan’s passion, his heart, his quickness and mobility on defense, getting offensive rebounds and making some of the hustle plays, so I think he’s really embraced that.”
Said Hoos veteran forward Jayden Gardner about Dunn’s impact: “His ability to play the three or four [spot] has been helpful to us throughout the season. His shooting has come along because he’s stayed patient and he’s been working in the gym at it.”
It didn’t hurt Dunn’s readiness for ACC hoops, either, that he had a front-row seat to witness closely what it takes to succeed when the competition stiffens.
His older brother, Justin Dunn, pitches for the Cincinnati Reds and has spent the past four seasons in Major League Baseball after starring for Boston College and being a former first-round draft choice of the New York Mets. Ryan Dunn said he’s absorbed how to train like a professional, and said his brother watches every UVa game and provides feedback.
“You can’t take anything off,” Dunn said of the lessons his big-league brother taught him, “and that work ethic is a big thing, so you’ve got to continue to work and continue to get better so once you get the opportunity to play on these big stages — like we’re going to now — that you’re able to be comfortable.”
Bennett added: “When you see guys go through and become pros … and it’s a family member, it’s just different. And those who’ve walked that path can say that. Those who haven’t — unless they’ve observed it — have to figure it out and I think that’s helped him.”
The Cavaliers’ headman said he was tipped off in recruiting to Dunn by ex-Boston College coach and current Penn coach Steve Donahue, who also years earlier pointed Bennett in the direction of former UVa star De’Andre Hunter.
“So, I ran into Coach Donahue and I said, ‘Any other De’Andre Hunters out there?’” Bennett recalled earlier season after Dunn had six points, four rebounds, a block and two steals against Boston College. “He said, ‘You know. There’s a guy and he’s not quite like De’Andre, but you should take a look. He’s not getting recruited, but I think his upside as he grows into his body could be really good.’ And he said Ryan Dunn.”
Bennett said he believed after scouting Dunn that Donahue’s intuition was correct.
The problem was the Cavaliers had accepted a commitment from forward Isaac Traudt and didn’t have any scholarships left. Bennett said he had to call Dunn and his family to let them know.
The reaction was one Bennett likely didn’t expect. Dunn’s father, Ed Dunn, according to Bennett called back and asked if Dunn could walk on. The blossoming recruit had garnered interest from Boston College, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Georgetown, Marquette and others, so it’s not like Dunn didn’t have options.
Bennett welcomed Dunn as a walk-on, and ultimately a scholarship opened up for him to take.
“I have zero regrets,” Dunn said regarding that decision. “I feel like this is the place God wanted me to be at and this is where I needed to be.”
The Hoos are thrilled it’s worked out, too, and are eager about not only how Dunn can give them a burst of energy this week in Greensboro and during the NCAA Tournament over the next month, but in coming seasons as well.
“The potential for him and his upside is crazy,” Gardner said.