How New London's Kris Dunn found his way home
Senior followed a winding path to greatness as Whalers' all-time leading scorer
New London - A walk inside Conway Gymnasium sustains Winston Churchill's quote that history is written by the victors. The green championship banners, 22 strong, are a living extension of history, homage to the people who authored them.
A simple gaze invites the mind to ping-pong along, recalling all the greats, all the games, all the memories and how in New London, people are awash in the history and history is awash in them.
But if an inquiring mind were to ask, "banner, banner on the wall, which one is the fairest of them all?" the answer would be the newest and most unique addition.
The only banner trumpeting an individual player.
And this is the story of a 6-foot 3-inch guard and future Providence College Friar. The young man with the personality to match the game. The kid who found himself in a car one night with the father he never knew. The kid born here, but who lived in Virginia until he was 9, left to discover a new life in his old town. The young man who paces the house on game days, who went Barry Sanders in his first youth football game. The young man who has the hardest markers of all in the 06320 in agreement that Kris Dunn is the greatest Whaler in the estimable history of the program.
Troy Peters returned home from a wedding one night about eight years ago to a ringing phone. It was 2:30 a.m. The voice on the other end belonged to his lifelong friend, John Seldon, who is Kris Dunn's father.
"John said, 'I know where my kids are. We have to go get them,'" Peters was saying one night earlier this week, recalling the shapes and forms of a night that ultimately cleared the brush for Dunn's path to a life he never saw coming.
"So we got in the car and drove to Virginia," Peters said.
Peters, Dunn's godfather, and Seldon were off to Alexandria. Seldon learned that Dunn's biological mother was no longer able to provide proper care for Kris and older brother John. Seldon, happily married to his wife, Audra, nonetheless burned to know the whereabouts of his sons from another relationship.
Seldon thought his sons were evicted from their old apartment, maybe even living in a hallway.
And nobody in Virginia knew Seldon and Peters were coming.
"We didn't know what we were walking into," Peters said. "We were scared."
One glance at Peters and Seldon, both of whom look big enough to bench press U-Hauls, would indicate that nothing, really, should scare them. But what they found was truly scary: An empty apartment where Seldon thought his kids were living.
So they drove home. This time, though, they enlisted the help of Juan Roman, a probation officer for the state of Connecticut, former New London football great and current assistant football coach. Roman sent Seldon and Peters back to Virginia with the proper paperwork, a court order and a police escort. They found Kris and John Dunn at a summer camp. They were living with an aunt.
John Dunn had a vague remembrance of his dad. Not Kris.
"I didn't know who my father was," Kris Dunn, who was about 10 at the time, said recently. "I had never seen him before. In that car ride back to New London, I was a lost child."
In that car ride, Peters said there was a real fear the kids might run. An adult remained with them at all times.
John Seldon is a former football great at New London and later Waterford. He played college ball in Dodge City, Kansas. John and Audra, a native of Westerly, had a life together working at Mohegan Sun. They had two children, Ariana and Ashley. Audra had a son, Rashad Pauley, a future New London football player, from another relationship.
Now they had this new life, two more kids.
Two kids who didn't know them.
One more dose of culture shock for Kris Dunn: His stepmother is white.
"He was worried that we'd be out as a family and people would look at us funny," she said.
Dunn admitted it took him "a year and a half" to realize a level of comfort with his new life.
The Seldons moved to Montville. And it wasn't long until Kris began playing youth football.
"We were amazed by his athletic ability," Audra said.
John Seldon remembers Kris' first game as vividly as the dunks he threw down the other night against Xavier in the first round of the Class LL boys' basketball state tournament.
"We were losing in the fourth quarter and it was like fourth-and-12," Seldon said. "Kris was the running back. They pitched it to him and he did a Barry Sanders. He went left, then right, touchdown. He even lost a shoe and it didn't matter. Ridiculous."
Dunn, who still lives in Montville and attends the Science and Technology Magnet School in New London, started playing youth basketball, too. He was even better.
"Kris came home one day and said we should start to call him 'Smokey,'" Audra said, "'because I keep smoking by people.'"
Dunn was a starter as a freshman basketball player with the Whalers and made all-state. He played football, too, for Jack Cochran, another childhood friend of Seldon's. Their friendship produced a budding friendship of their sons. Kris Dunn and UConn quarterback Casey Cochran are close friends. Imagine: The two most recognizable high school athletes in Connecticut this season aren't just friends, but have ties to New London.
Seldon can't thank Jack Cochran enough for introducing his son to strength training. There were times Kris Dunn protested football. But his dad continued to reiterate that Cochran would make him better.
Dunn looks back on it now as somewhat of a theme: father knows best.
"It took me a while to really get to know my dad," Kris Dunn said. "But he always told me I'd make something of myself. I didn't always know who he was, but for some reason, I believed him. He's a great man. My stepmother is a great woman."
Dunn had just led the Whalers to an unparalleled season, tops in all of New London lore and legend. The Whalers were undefeated last year, 27-0, and won the Class L state title before a full house at Mohegan Sun Arena. They were ranked No. 1 in the state. Dunn, a good student, had colleges clamoring: UConn, Providence, Louisville, Texas among them.
Junior year was over. Dunn was the king of Connecticut. Life was good. Now it was the summer. Huge summer. Travel with Connecticut Basketball Club (CBC), his Amateur Athletic Union team. All eyes on him.
"The summer was hell," John Seldon said.
"Everyone was coming at him. I was traveling everywhere. We'd play a game at 10 a.m. and he'd have another one in another state later in the day," Seldon said. "Then they started flying to tournaments: Texas, California, Indiana, Arkansas. I think they tried to do all 50 states."
Dunn's stock, rising like his vertical, made Seldon an unwitting rock star, too. Coaches kept calling. It didn't hurt that Dunn had a close friendship with Andre Drummond, perhaps the most coveted player in the country last summer, who ultimately chose UConn.
"UConn offered early, but Kris wanted to wait," Seldon said. "(Louisville coach) Rick Pitino kept calling me. But Kris really wanted to go to North Carolina."
Meantime, Dunn decided he would attend Wilbraham & Monson, a prep school in Massachusetts, forgoing senior year at New London.
Talk about a conversation topic. No one could figure out why, even his father.
"I told him 'you don't need it, your grades are good,'" Seldon said. "But that's what he wanted to do."
Maybe it was an AAU thing. Soon, though, it didn't matter. Seldon began to see personality changes in his son, perhaps from a summer of being pampered with first-class travel. Maybe it was the first mention of "one and done," a college basketball euphemism for one year in college and straight to the pros, that forced Seldon into an "I can't take this anymore" moment.
"We were in Vegas at a tournament," Seldon said. "I said, 'when we get home, we're going to talk.'"
John and Audra Seldon, in spite of seeing their son's athletic ability, have reinforced education to their children faithfully. John Dunn, a former high school player at Montville, recently graduated from Central Connecticut with a degree in accounting. Education would be a component at college for Kris, too.
Enter Ed Cooley, the new, personable, energetic coach at Providence.
"I didn't want a coach that was only going to teach him basketball," Seldon said. "Kris needed a father figure. He needs a role model. Coach Cooley came from nothing."
Seldon was asked if any coach other than Cooley discussed education with the family.
"No," Seldon said bluntly. "Coach Cooley is the only one."
Dunn gave Providence an oral commitment. He pledged to return to New London, to his family and friends and to an environment that spit in the eye of "one and done."
Cooley, after the Friars beat UConn recently, beamed at the mention of Dunn's name, saying, "Great kid. Can't wait till he's here."
It was before the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament semifinals last week that Dunn unveiled his banner on the walls of Conway Gym. Kris Dunn immortalized. This is what happens when you become the face of an eight-time state championship program and break the scoring record of a beloved graduate, Tyson Wheeler.
"I wanted to cry," Audra Seldon said. "We are so thankful to New London. To coach (Craig) Parker for all he's done and taught Kris."
Kris Dunn turned out just the way Parker always imagined.
"I've had special players here. Kareem (Brown), Allen (Chaney), Rob (Sanders) but Kris is on another level," Parker said. "From day one, I've had no concerns. He's played every possession at both ends. Normally, when you coach a great player, they take possessions off. Kris Dunn's defining attribute is that he's wired to play hard."
Tonight, most likely, will be Dunn's final act at Conway Gym. It's possible the Whalers could play home next week in a quarterfinal, but would need a loss from fourth-seeded (and heavily favored) Windsor to do so. So this really might be it for a young man who will prompt people from here to say one day, "we knew him when."
"My whole career here has been wonderful," Kris Dunn said. "All my teammates, Torin (Childs-Harris), Johnson (Benjamin), Bryce (Childs), Shakim (Curry), to the guys now. Coach Parker has been great to me, showing me the importance of fundamentals. The community has been great. No one hated. This is honestly my second family. If I make it, I'll give back."