Dunn hungry for another championship

New London senior Kris Dunn is No. 29 in the ESPNU 100 Christopher Beauchamp/ESPNHS

This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s Connecticut edition.

You’d like Kris Dunn.

At first blush, the New London senior comes across as a happy-go-lucky kid, all smiles and jokes and goofiness. He’s exceedingly polite but possesses a mischievous grin. A bit lanky at 6-foot-3, he exudes an air of fun — an adventurer ready for his next caper.

Even on the basketball court, the kid they call Stretch is a bundle of energy, creating havoc — not to mention steals and baskets — with his exuberance. But challenge him, tell him he’s no good at basketball, and a different persona surfaces.

“The smile disappears,” says Doug Henton, a senior guard at New London. “Once he steps on the court, he’s all about business.”

Henton recalls a game last year when a Stonington player made the mistake of talking trash to Dunn, who responded by tossing the ball off the backboard to himself and throwing down an emphatic dunk.

Let that be a lesson to any opposing player: Don’t make Kris Dunn angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Rated the nation’s No. 2 point guard in the ESPNU 100, Dunn has used his split personality to become one of the best players in state history. He’s led a storied New London program to the Class L title game each of the past two seasons, and last year he averaged 25.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.5 steals and 5.0 assists a game as the Whalers went undefeated and emerged as state champions.

“You never have to worry about Kris not playing hard on the basketball court,” says New London coach Craig Parker.

A Providence commit, Dunn is back at New London this season looking to cement his legacy as the top player in the program’s storied history. As recently as this past summer, however, his return didn’t seem likely. Dunn and fellow Connecticut Basketball Club star Andre Drummond committed to spend their senior years prepping at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Massachusetts. But Dunn decided at the last minute that he’d rather return to New London, while Drummond enrolled early at UConn this fall.

Initially, Dunn had been drawn to the idea of playing with his good friend against elevated competition, and of getting the college feel a year early. He thought it’d help his maturation process. But when he sat down to talk with his family about it, they asked if he really wanted to take that step.

In the end, Dunn decided to stay home.

“I didn’t want to bail on New London like that because this is where everything started,” he says.

When he arrived at New London, Dunn was a 5-10 freshman, gangly and without a jump shot to speak of. He still started and earned All-State honors.

“Sophomore year he had a jump shot but was not that athletic,” says Henton. “Junior year he was dunking on people.

“I can’t wait to see what he comes back with (this year).”

Those gains came from hours in the gym and on the court. With CBC, Dunn often played up an age group, and his skills — and recruiting profile — grew as he did. Along with adding around five inches of height, Dunn has added roughly 20 pounds of muscle to his frame since freshman year and now checks in at 180.

“Kris has made a commitment to basketball,” adds Parker. “He’s constantly playing, he’s constantly practicing. He’s worked a lot to improve his outside shot and I think you’ll see more of that this year.”

Dunn credits his work ethic largely to his father, John Seldon. Dunn was born in Connecticut but spent his early years in Virginia with his mom before returning to live with his dad at age 11. They were both committed to making up for lost time, and Seldon impressed upon his son the value of hard work, competitiveness and academics.

“He’s always in the gym getting better,” says Casey Cochran, who led New London to a state football title as a freshman and is now the signal-caller for Masuk. “He’s really dedicated.”

But Cochran also sees the silly side of Dunn. Their fathers are old friends — both played football for New London — and Cochran and Dunn have been close for several years. On occasion, they have “Ugly Sweater Night,” which pretty much speaks for itself.

“He’s always got a smile on his face,” says Cochran, a UConn commit who’s the state’s top football player. “He’s always laughing or smiling.”

A self-described class clown, Dunn’s off-court demeanor is as unpredictable as his skill set is varied. In addition to ugly sweaters, he likes turtles, video games and math. He also has a strong faith in God.

Dunn has thought a lot about trying out for the New London soccer, tennis and baseball teams but always decides to focus instead on hoops. He was a good football player when he was younger, and his dad is still a little disappointed Kris chose basketball instead.

He even plays golf twice a week and thinks he could make that team, too.

“I try to play people,” he says, “but I like to joke around so people don’t really take me serious.”

That’s never a problem on the court, where Dunn is a factor in every aspect of the game.

He may be asked to do even more this season. While New London returns most of its key players, the Whalers will be without Torin Childs-Harris, an All-State wing now doing a prep year at St. Thomas More.

If anyone is up to the task, it’s Dunn. While he can take it to the rack with ease, defenders have to play him close because of his improved outside shot. If they double-team him or use a box-and-one, he’s more than capable of getting his teammates involved, as his career average of more than five assists per game demonstrates. With his bounce, Dunn can outrebound most forwards, and with his quickness he’s always a threat on the break.

Like his favorite player, Kobe Bryant, Dunn even relishes the opportunity to lock down the opposing team’s best perimeter player. And most of the time he does it all with a smile on his face.

“He’s just a tremendous athlete and a terrific young man,” says Parker.

What’s not to like?