Providence - There had always been a look about Kris Dunn. In his old life, anyway. The big smile. Wiseguy. Happy. Loving life. And why not? Great family. A million friends. King of the world. Or at least the 06320. McDonald's All-American. The only guy with his own banner in his high school gym, right there next to all the championships.
Life, however, has this funny way of happening. Dunn's life is new now. He's a college basketball player burdened by the expectations of his own excellence. A college basketball player whose freshman year has been hijacked by an injured shoulder. Not as much playing time. Now the same face that lit up New London High and gyms across Connecticut during four unforgettable winters is more serious. More sullen.
"This is not me," Dunn was saying Wednesday night.
He had just played all of nine minutes at the Dunkin Donuts Center, site of Providence College's near upset of No. 7 Syracuse. Dunn scored four points and committed two turnovers. The best way to describe his contribution: nondescript.
And that's not Kris Dunn.
"My shoulder still isn't right," Dunn said, alluding to the injury sustained last winter that kept him off the court for the Friars until mid December. "It's set me back a lot. Trying to get back into this is like trying to teach a baby how to play basketball. I'm not dribbling as hard."
To think that a year ago Wednesday, Dunn had the ball in his hands for the Whalers, scoring 35 points with 18 rebounds against Bacon Academy. Fast forward. There were approximately 11,000 more people watching him on this Jan. 9. The opposing coach went from Kevin Fennell to Jim Boeheim. And there was Dunn, relegated to the back of the PC zone, trying to get a body on 6-10 Baye Moussa Keita, 6-9 Rakeem Christmas and 6-8 C.J. Fair, among others. Players PC coach Ed Cooley called "long dudes" after the game.
This isn't the way it was drawn up. The McDonald's All-American was going to swoop in wearing the big "S" on his chest, right next to fellow prized recruit Ricky Ledo and deliver the Friars to salvation.
Then Dunn got hurt, Ledo was told by the NCAA he couldn't play this season and the Friars have lost four straight.
Dunn's family has read the Internet postings from the Friar faithful. And others. It's easy to suggest that you dismiss the rantings of Nitwit America. They don't stay on point. They spell every third word incorrectly. They send proper grammar careening down a flight of stairs. And yet it's the cumulative effect of their words that sting.
Dunn has learned what other McDonald's All Americans have: after the hosannas come the expectations.
He was asked if, in a perfect world, he would have liked to come to Providence with more anonymity.
"Nobody wants to have that pressure on their shoulders," Dunn said. "I guess some may. But to answer that question, I guess I'd say yes."
And yet he knows that's impossible.
The belief around the Friars is that the ball will be in Dunn's hands next year. This is the great learning curve. The entire team, save Vincent Council, is back. Ledo joins them. They should be drastically improved. And Dunn will be the face of the program.
But that doesn't make things any easier now.
"I've got to teach this program how to win. I'm not satisfied with close," Cooley said after the 72-66 loss to the Orange. "Our program will turn around when we learn how to win. Our time will come. It's just not right now. We need everyone to be patient and deal with the progress of rebuilding."
Ed Cooley was talking to all of Friardom.
But he could have been speaking straight to Kris Dunn.
"I'm waiting for my time," Dunn said. "Right now I'm just learning and seeing how college basketball is."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.