Monmouth coach King Rice thought he was watching the second coming of Hunter in UVA freshman Dunn

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia fans got their first look at Ryan Dunn on Friday night, but for opposing coach King Rice, seeing Dunn was like deja vu all over again.

“I told [his players] the last time I was in this building (UVA’s John Paul Jones Arena), was when the Hunter kid came off the bench from Philly and went crazy,” said Rice, the former North Carolina guard who is in his 12th year as head coach at Monmouth. “And I was like, who is this kid?”

One of Rice’s players that year told him that De’Andre Hunter was from the player’s hometown, and that Hunter was really good.

“And he wasn’t even getting minutes until our game,” Rice said of Hunter, “and he had that big-time game and then went from there. I’ve been paying attention, and now he’s with the [NBA’s Atlanta] Hawks, and he’s one big-time guy.”

Hunter recently signed a $90-million extended contract with the Hawks, who believe he is a rising star.

So, what’s that got to do with Dunn? A lot, according to Rice.

“And it’s like, wow, [Dunn] looks like [Hunter],” Rice said. “You can tell he’s young, and when he grows into that body and with that skill set, it’s going to be ‘wow.’ He’ll be giving people problems fo a long, long time.”

Unlike Hunter, Rice knew about Dunn beforehand. He remembered that only Rick Pitino (at Iona) was recruiting Dunn until he popped up on Virginia’s radar.

“And then Tony [Bennett] saw him and [Dunn] ends up at Virginia,” said Rice. “Everybody talked about that young man, and you can just see he’s going to be a really, really good one.”

Making his collegiate debut, Dunn said after UVA’s win over Monmouth that he was nervous the first few minutes. Obviously, he shook the jitters pretty quickly.

Dunn played 26 minutes and 42 seconds, and scored 13 points, connecting on 5 of 6 field-goal attempts, made his only 3-point attempt, and was 2-of-4 at the free-throw line. He also pulled down 6 rebounds, posted two assists, two steals and blocked 3 shots.

Dunn is a 6-foot-8 wing from Freeport, N.Y. (Perkiomen School). He and fellow true freshman guard Isaac McNeely, from Poca, W.Va., combined for 28 of the Cavaliers 89 points.

“Coach Bennett trusts us as freshmen, which is a big thing,” Dunn said after the game. “He gives us a lot of practice and we try to do the best we can, so I give thanks to him for believing in us. We’ve just got to figure out what we’ve got to do this year to stay on the floor as freshmen because it’s a tough road, but I think we are capable.”

Dunn’s debut was somewhat spectacular, and he did have some anxiety before hitting the floor.

“I’m not gonna lie … for me, the first two minutes of the game, I was kind of nervous because it was my first time ever in college basketball,” Dunn said. “But once I got the flow of it, it was kind of just playing to play. If I mess up, I mess up. If I make a mistake, they always teach us that they’re able to just move on and make the next play. They might get on us the first time, but you’ve just gotta keep making plays.”

When Dunn was told about King Rice’s comparison of him to Hunter, the freshman was glowing.

“I mean, it’s a great comparison,” Dunn said. “De’Andre was kind of a legend in school, so you know kind of being able to compare to him is great, but I also know that I have to keep going and keep doing what he did, and keep doing what I’ve got to do on the court so I can hopefully be like De’Andre one day.”

Dunn realized it was just one game, that there will be tougher challenges ahead. Still, he has gone through a lot with an ankle injury.

“We have a whole season ahead, so tomorrow I have to let that go and focus on this game,” Dunn said. “Throughout my journey, it’s been tough to get here. A lot of ups and downs, but being out there tonight, just being able to play in front of my parents and my brother, they could see how good I was and how energetic I was. I give thanks to God for that.”