New London's Dunn adjusting to grind of his first NBA season

Minnesota's Kris Dunn, a rookie guard from New London and Providence College, is adjusting to the daily grind of his first NBA season. (AP File Photo/Jim Mone)
Minnesota's Kris Dunn, a rookie guard from New London and Providence College, is adjusting to the daily grind of his first NBA season. (AP File Photo/Jim Mone)

Boston — If life as an NBA player has changed Kris Dunn, he certainly didn't show it Wednesday night.

Dunn, a rookie guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, spoke fondly of his hometown of New London before his homecoming game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.

He still keeps in contact with his former Providence College basketball teammates and planned on watching part of his college program's NCAA tournament game later Wednesday night.

"He's still the same Kris," said Audra, Kris's stepmother, who sat in Section 4 along with her husband, John.

Given everything Dunn's been through since his rocky childhood, it's no surprise that he remains humble and appreciates his journey.

"It's a blessing," Dunn said sitting in front of his locker prior to the game. "I can't be upset about anything. My dream was to play in the NBA and I'm finally here."

Wednesday represented Dunn's first appearance in New England as a pro. He left "a bunch" of tickets for family members and friends. Audra said she spotted more people wearing Dunn's Minnesota jersey at TD Garden than she's seen at home games in Minnesota.

"I appreciate my city coming out and supporting me," Dunn said.

Former New London resident Jim Pitka, who lives in Nashua, N.H. and once worked with Dunn's father at the Mohegan Sun, sat with Jeff Plotnick of Montville to cheer on Dunn. Pitka wore a Whaler green shirt with yellow letters that read: "Straight Outta New London."

"He's just such a great kid," Pitka said. "He's so grounded and family oriented and he's got a great role model in his dad."

John was clearing enjoying watching his son play in Boston.

"It's great seeing him out there," John said.

Dunn's rookie season has gone about as expected.

He's made an impact on defense but struggled on the offensive end. A reserve point guard, he's averaging 3.6 points, 2.4 assists and 2.1 rebounds while shooting 36.9 percent from the field and playing 16.4 minutes per game.

Perhaps his highlight game came against Denver on Jan. 22. In one of his six starts, Dunn contributed 10 points and season bests for rebounds (8) and assists (9).

Dunn also dealt with an injury, missing four games in early February with a sore right hand.

"Like most rookies, there's going to be ups and downs," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Defensively, Kris is terrific. Offensively, he's still learning the NBA game, but he brings a lot of toughness that we desperately needed to our team.

"I think he'll continue to get better and better."

The biggest adjustment is dealing with the NBA grind, which can be exhausting for a veteran never mind a newcomer.

During his All-American senior season at Providence, Dunn played 33 games, leading the Friars to the NCAA tournament second round. Minnesota selected him fifth overall in last June's NBA Draft.

On Wednesday, Dunn made his 63rd appearance for the Timberwolves. He finished with four points on 2-for-6 shooting and also had two assists and a rebound in 15 minutes during Minnesota's 117-104 loss to the Celtics.

"The only adjustment that's really difficult from college is the traveling," Dunn said. "You're always on the road; you're not home too much. ... It's just a lot of games. You've got to prepare for each and every  game. You've got to try to bring it every night.

"It definitely gets to you. It's the little things that get to you. It's repetitive, so you keep doing the same things over and over each and every day. So you've got to find a way to be mentally tough."

Dunn is also adjusting to living far from home for the first time. He has a condominium in the Minneapolis area. He made a quick trip home during the all-star break.

"He's a little homesick, but he'll be all right," Audra said. "At Providence, he was still kind of home. This is his first time being away from home, so just not adjusting to the NBA but being away from home. I think it hurts me more than him."

Dunn draws comfort from his family joining him on his journey.

"My family has always been there," Dunn said. "They've been to a lot of my games. Even in the NBA so far, they've been to a lot of games that you wouldn't expect them to be at. So for them being there, that's love."

g.keefe@theday.com

Minnesota’s Kris Dunn, center, threads between the Celtics’ Al Horford, left, and Marcus Smart on a drive to the basket during Boston’ 117-104 win on Wednesday.
The ex-New London star was playing in New England for the first time during his rookie NBA season. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Minnesota’s Kris Dunn, center, threads between the Celtics’ Al Horford, left, and Marcus Smart on a drive to the basket during Boston’ 117-104 win on Wednesday. The ex-New London star was playing in New England for the first time during his rookie NBA season. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
The Timberwolves' Kris Dunn, left, is defended by Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers during a March 8 game in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
The Timberwolves' Kris Dunn, left, is defended by Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers during a March 8 game in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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