Dunn has new fan in Pressley

Thirty years ago, long before Kris Dunn ruled the Connecticut high school basketball world, there was another king from southeastern Connecticut commanding national attention.

His name: Harold Pressley.

Pressley, a former St. Bernard School standout, can tune in to ESPN tonight to watch Dunn - New London's star guard - play in the 35th Annual McDonald's All-American game at the United Center in Chicago. Tip-off is 9:30.

Pressley competed in the McDonald's game, also in Chicago, in 1982. He fondly talked about his moment in the national spotlight during a telephone conversation Tuesday from Sacramento, Calif.

"That was quite entertaining," said Pressley, who used that game as a springboard to a stellar career at Villanova. "It was a huge deal. I remember the whole get-together when we all met for the first time and how fun it was to check out the East versus West Coast style."

Pressley now lives in the Sacramento area, running an organization called Treat 'Em Like a King Foundation, which helps out disadvantaged children and their families. He played four years for the Sacramento Kings, who selected him 17th overall in the 1986 NBA draft, and also in Spain during his career.

When Pressley earned McDonald's All-American status during his senior season at St. Bernard, he became just the second Connecticut player to appear in that prestigious game, the first since Corny Thompson of Middletown in 1978. Charles Smith of Harding in Bridgeport joined the exclusive club in 1984 and now the Providence-bound Dunn is the latest all-star game participant.

Pressley's teammates and opponents included Johnny Dawkins, Brad Daughtery, Billy Thompson, Del Curry and the late Wayman Tisdale, his roommate during the event. He ended up being NBA teammates with Tisdale in Sacramento.

Nerves kicked in when Pressley stepped on the court before 15,835 fans at the Rosemont Horizon.

"Wow, this is really crazy," Pressley remembers thinking. "This place is filled. I looked around and saw this humongous arena with no empty seats."

Pressley struggled at first, tossing up an air ball on his first shot. In an ironic twist, he did the same thing in his first college game for Villanova. He finished with six points in East's team 103-84 loss.

At the time, he had yet to pick a school, narrowing his list to North Carolina, Notre Dame, UCLA and Villanova.

"It wasn't until the national championship game between Georgetown and North Carolina where Michael Jordan hit the jump shot that I actually chose Villanova," Pressley said. "The funny story was (North Carolina coach) Dean Smith called me (earlier that season) and said, 'I know you're a hell of a player but we have a guy who is very talented and we think he's going to be a great player Are you okay with waiting?' "

Pressley agreed to wait but Jordan became an instant star, leading the St. Bernard star to pick Villanova. Pressley went on to win one of the most memorable national championships in NCAA history, shocking Georgetown, 66-64, in the 1985 national title game. He still remains in contact with his former Wildcat coach Rollie Massimino.

These days when he's not busy with his foundation, his family is his focus. He has four children - Ellis (21), a college baseball player; Bryce (18) who's being recruited by Division I basketball programs; Brenden (15), and Brianna (12), a promising volleyball player.

His brother, Malcolm, who also lives in the Sacramento area, keeps Pressley updated on life in southeastern Connecticut. Dunn's name has come up in conversation.

"He's been telling me all about Dunn all year long," Pressley said. "You can tell (Dunn) he can call me any time. I would love to give him some pointers and things to look forward to (in college)."

g.keefe@theday.com

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