PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The people who run NBA front offices and scouting departments were shocked. According to multiple NBA executives -- who gushed about his length, athleticism and court vision at the point guard position -- Kris Dunn was a probable lottery pick had he entered the 2015 NBA draft.
Kris Dunn's father was surprised. John Seldon would never say his son made the wrong decision to return for his senior year at Providence, but there were more than a million dollars being left on the table and an injury history to suggest there was no time like the (healthy) present.
"If it was me, I would have come out," Seldon admits. "I would have taken the money and been gone so quick, but I couldn't tell him that. I left it up to him."
Kris Dunn's Providence Friars college coach, the only person certain to benefit from Dunn's decision to return, was surprised, too. Ed Cooley had just watched Dunn take home Big East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors while carrying Providence to a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, its best showing in over a decade.
"I said, 'Kris, if you were my son, I'd probably have you go to the NBA,'" Cooley said.
But Kris Dunn stayed, and the decision is not difficult for him to explain. Some of it was about academics -- he's on course to graduate with a social sciences degree in May, and he wanted to complete that goal and provide a good example for his two younger sisters. Some of it was about basketball -- "I knew I had to develop my game. I don't want to just go in the NBA and just be there," he says.
Ultimately, the reasons proved to be less revealing than the person who made them. This decision could only have been made by someone who is his own man. And it only could have been made by someone who was forced to become his own man -- a grown man -- when he was still a 9-year-old boy.
Kris Dunn rarely spent a day of fourth grade in the Alexandria, Virginia, classroom where he belonged. He spent that year trying to survive. Dunn's mother, Pia, was in jail.
His father figure would be his older brother by five years, John, and the duo did what they had to do. The two boys sold their clothes. They gambled on card games, and John used trick dice to win money. Kris played teenagers in 1-on-1 for $20 -- even when he had no money in his own pocket to back up the wager. Kris sprinted into friends' kitchens in search of food and was even forced to steal in order to put food on the table.
It was the two boys fending for themselves much of the time at the Mount Vernon Square apartment complex. Third floor. Apartment 308. Often, there was no electricity, no heat and an empty refrigerator. Kris said there were two rooms. His mother had slept in one before being incarcerated, and the two boys were on air mattresses in the other.
"Where we lived wasn't good for anybody," Kris said. "You go outside, no grass, s--- all over the place. It was bad.
"It was just us two. Just us two -- and nobody knew. We wouldn't let it be known. We were fighters. Every day, we learned how to get what we want in order to survive."
Seldon, the boys' father, was absent, but this is not another story about a father who had abandoned his children. The boys' mother had taken them to Alexandria from their Connecticut home when Kris was about a year old, and he says he spent years trying to locate them.
Seldon said he went to the court, but his attempts to locate his sons were fruitless.
"She was running away from life," Seldon said. "I was pissed off. No one would help me. I went right to the courthouse. I was like, 'This person took my child.' They wanted me to pay child support, didn't care about my situation. It was bad."
Seldon was frustrated, angry at the world at times without his sons. He eventually lost their trail.
"I didn't know where they were," Seldon said. "I thought they were in Florida."
But one day around the time of Kris' lost year of fourth grade, Pia Dunn called Seldon out of the blue with a proposal. She would send their older son, John, to Connecticut to see his father.
"She only did it so he could buy me clothes," John Dunn says.
Seldon wound up buying his oldest son a pair of $200 Jordan sneakers on the trip -- which he proceeded to sell almost immediately upon returning to Alexandria. But the father still didn't have so much as a phone number where his sons could be reached.
Seldon's break, though, came when he checked the phone bill a few weeks after his son returned home. He saw a few calls to Alexandria and decided to dial one of the numbers. On the other end was one of Kris' coaches, who informed Seldon that Pia Dunn was in jail.
Seldon went to the courts again, this time with success.
"I ... went to the courthouse, and they told me you've got every right to take them," Seldon said. "I'm the next guardian."
He got into his 2003 Chevy Venture van armed with a court order and his buddy, Troy Peters. The pair made the drive to Alexandria, where Seldon knocked on the door.
"I was in the house," Kris Dunn said. " There were two big dudes banging on the big, glass door and telling me to come to the door. I'm looking at them, I'm like, 'OK, I'm going to lock it up even more.' My brother comes out and says: 'What are you doing? That's our father.' Emotions just came out of me so much. I never met my father before."
The adjustment for 10-year-old Kris was difficult in New London, Connecticut. He was thrust into life with a brand new family of strangers: his dad, his stepmom, Audra, a stepbrother, Rashad, and two young sisters, Ashley and Ariana.
For a while, Kris wouldn't even look his father in the eye. In fact, it took him more than a year to call Seldon "Dad," instead referring to him by his first name.
"He was angry. He didn't know who I was," Seldon said. "He had never seen me."
But the pair started to develop a relationship, and much of it was based on tough love -- and sports. Seldon, an ex-football star at New London High, took his son to a pee wee football game and threw him in a uniform. With the team getting pummeled, the coach finally put the 10-year-old in the game late in the fourth quarter.
Dunn ran to the right, did a spin move, his shoe came off, he turned the other way and then he was gone heading into the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown run.
"I didn't know he could move like that," Seldon said. I was like, 'Oh my God.' It was crazy. He shocked me."
His father kept pushing football, but Dunn yearned to be on the court more than on the field. He played -- and excelled -- his first two seasons at New London High before giving up football to concentrate solely on basketball. Seldon admittedly didn't know much about basketball, but what he did realize is that his son wasn't receiving the same accolades for dishing out double-figure assists as others in the area were getting for putting up 30 points.
"I'd look up in the stands after throwing a nice pass and everyone would be yelling and screaming," Dunn said. "Except him. He was mad."
"I told him to score," Seldon said.
Dunn was jet-quick. He was athletic and could get to the basket virtually whenever he wanted. He heeded his father's advice.
"Attack! Attack!," he'd hear his father yelling from the bleachers.
"He turned me into a complete animal," Kris admitted. "I'd do anything to score the ball."
Providence coach Ed Cooley remembers the first time he saw Dunn on the court. Dunn was a sophomore at New London High, and Cooley was the head coach at Fairfield at the time.
"He was like a young, wild colt," Cooley said. "Wiry strong, fast as hell. Incredible anticipation skills."
It didn't take long for Cooley to put forth a scholarship offer. Dunn was ready to accept it and prepare for a career at Fairfield. Except Seldon wasn't going to let it happen. He'd never even heard of Fairfield, even though it's a little more than an hour away from New London. Seldon wanted the big-time, like UConn.
Cooley took the Providence job on March 22, 2011, and Dunn committed before Cooley coached his first game with the Friars. Jim Calhoun and the Huskies did eventually come calling, but by then Dunn's bond with Cooley -- along with the understanding he could have an immediate impact at Providence -- was too strong.
"I looked on the floor, and I knew I could play," Kris said. "UConn had so many guards. I'm not saying I wasn't better, but I'm not dumb. It's all about getting on that floor."
Dunn spent more time as a spectator the first two years in college than he did on the floor, but it was injuries, not talent, that held him back. He arrived on campus as a freshman with a shoulder injury and missed the first nine games. When he returned, he was playing out of position, almost as a small forward, due to the presence of guards Vincent Council and Bryce Cotton.
Dunn was ready as a sophomore. Council was gone. But on Nov. 3, in an exhibition game against Rhode Island College, Dunn found himself writhing in pain, grabbing his shoulder after a loose-ball collision.
Dunn tried to gut it out, playing in four games, but he was largely ineffective. He was also in agony. Upon the team's return to school after an early-season tournament in the Virgin Islands, Cooley ordered another MRI, after which doctors advised season-ending surgery. Dunn was crushed. The former McDonald's All-American was supposed to be the savior of the program. Instead, his career had been defined by injuries.
Then came the devastating blow to Dunn about a week later, on Dec. 2, when his brother informed him -- via text while he sat in class -- that his mother had died at the age of 50. Neither Kris nor his brother were certain on the exact cause of death.
Even though his relationship with his mother wasn't what it once was, it was too much to take.
"I almost didn't want to tell him she passed away, but I knew I had to," John Dunn said. "We didn't see our mom, but I guess in the back of our minds we thought eventually we'd build a relationship with her again -- and that was taken away."
Seldon made the hour drive from New London to Providence and took his son home. It was between semesters, and Dunn couldn't practice or play, anyway. His stepmother, Audra, said Kris didn't come out of his room for three full days.
"In my whole life, and I've been through a lot, that's the worst thing I've ever been through," Kris said. "My mind was so out of whack. I had so much pain and aggression. I didn't know how to explain it. I couldn't deal with anyone at that point in time. I probably didn't talk for two weeks. I needed to be alone. Then I let everyone come back in. I had a whole month to be with my family."
Finally, Kris Dunn was healthy going into the 2014-15 season-opener. His practices were erratic as he worked his way back, and Cooley even put him in a red or green jersey to make sure his teammates remembered to be careful of contact. But Dunn's shoulder was 100 percent, and he was confident.
The first game came against Albany on Nov. 15. Dunn logged 32 minutes and was terrible. He missed all five of his shot attempts, committed four turnovers, had just two assists and his only points came from the foul line.
"I missed five of the easiest layups in history," Kris recalled. "No one contested them. I kid you not. I still have the film."
But Dunn slowly started to shake off the rust. Five days later, he had 12 points and 14 assists in a win over Navy. He was finally in pre-injury form when Big East play came around, nearly posting a triple-double against Xavier. One week later, he'd get a triple-double against DePaul with 27 points, 13 boards and 11 assists. He was well on his way to a big year that would see Dunn average 15.6 points, 7.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game.
The NBA had begun to take notice, especially since Dunn was the prototypical new-age point guard. He was long, fast and athletic, with good size and defensive abilities.
But Dunn watched film. He saw the warts. The ball was too high when he dribbled. He made ill-advised decisions and took too many chances with flashy passes, and also took poor shots and was in the wrong position on defense.
"You can see it," Kris said. "I could see it. It wasn't a hard decision from that standpoint because I want to get better."
There was no huge postseason meeting between Dunn, his family and Cooley, who told him he'd likely be taken somewhere in the top half of the first round.
"I don't think he made the wrong decision," John Dunn said. "It's not like we're struggling like we were. It's not like we're poor. And he wants to play. He doesn't want to go to the D-League."
And so, Dunn told the NBA to wait.
Every day, Kris Dunn looks at the chain his two sisters made him shortly after his mother passed.
"R.I.P. MOMMY. I MISS YOU."
"He always wanted to take care of his mom," John Dunn says. "He was young [when we left Alexandria]. He has all these good memories. I don't want to take those away from him. But I know how it was."
"He was a mama's boy. If she was alive, maybe he would have gone to the NBA. Because she's not here now, he doesn't have to take care of her."
Instead of a rookie year in the NBA, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Dunn enters this season as one of the top candidates for the Wooden Award, which is given to the national player of the year. Cooley says he wouldn't be surprised to see him named national defensive player of the year, too.
While he doesn't regret returning to college, Dunn also won't deny that he thinks about the NBA every day -- whether he wants to or not. He recounts going to the mall and having a bunch of high school kids call him crazy, and tell him he should have left.
"I hear it all time," Dunn said when asked about the reaction. "But I know I made the right decision. Even if I don't ever end up in the NBA, I'll be fine."