Dec. 18, 2002
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Fish or cut bait.
Now or never.
Use it or lose it.
Sooner or later the time comes for every young athlete to be either a careerbench player or a consistent contributor to the team.
That time has arrived for University of Wyoming sophomore center Alex Dunn.
Actually, it has come and gone for the Sioux Rapids, Iowa, product.
In UW's second game of the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska, onNov. 29, Dunn was forced to play a lot more because senior starting centerUche Nsonwu-Amadi was out with a sprained right knee.
Dunn, who averaged just three minutes per game last season as a redshirtfreshman, played a career-high 25 minutes. He scored 10 points, pulled downa career-best eight rebounds and blocked two shots to help UW win 77-69.
Since then, Dunn has shown steady improvement. Through eight games, he isaveraging 6.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. His playing time has morethan quadrupled from last season to 14.5 minutes per game.
"Up in Alaska, when he got some minutes, he really showed he can make somegood plays and that he had the skill level to do it," coach Steve McClainsaid. "Like any player, you have to get some minutes before you can show. Hetook advantage of those minutes."
Dunn has all the qualities of a good center. He's big at 6-foot-10. He cameto UW at about 190 pounds but has bulked up to about 240 (UW's roster listshim at 220). He has a nice shooting touch from about 15 feet and runs thefloor well for his size.
Getting bigger and being more physical defensively are areas McClain said hewould like to see Dunn work on.
But early on, it's tough to be too critical of Dunn.
Nsonwu-Amadi has missed five games with that knee injury, including the lastfour. Without its center, who averaged a double-double (16.7 ppg, 14 rpg) inthe three games he has played, and the Cowboys not shooting well from theperimeter, the team has needed some help inside.
Dunn has been that guy. He's averaged 10 points and 6.4 rebounds in thegames Nsonwu-Amadi has missed.
"My confidence is the highest it's ever been," Dunn said. "Getting moreminutes has helped my confidence tremendously. I feel so much morecomfortable out there now than I did at the beginning of the season."
Added junior forward Joe Ries, "I think we have a lot of confidence in Alexand all of the guys coming off the bench. We miss Uche, but we feel like wecan do a lot of the same things whoever is out on the court."
UW assistant coach John Adams has worked with Dunn since he arrived inLaramie three years ago. Newly hired graduate assistant Shaun Vandiver, aformer center at Colorado who played nine years of pro basketball in Europe,was brought in and helps coach UW's post players.
Both said the biggest difference with Dunn this season hasn't necessarilybeen about improving his basketball skills.
"He's just being more vocal and more demonstrative," Vandiver said. "He'staking more pride and action in everything he does. We can turn to him incertain situations, and he can come through."
Dunn, who comes off as shy and reserved, agrees that showing more emotion onthe court has helped him.
"The more minutes I get and the more I'm on the court, I get a little bitmore of an attitude every game," he said. "I think it started in theAlaska-Anchorage game when Uche got hurt. I came in with emotion off thebench, and it has carried over."
Nsonwu-Amadi is expected back in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner.
When he does return, UW could have quite a formidable duo down low.
Nsonwu-Amadi was featured in several preseason college basketballpublications as one of the top centers in America. They may be writing aboutDunn down the road, his coaches say.
"I think the sky is the limit for him," Adams said. "He's almost 7-foot, heis about 240 pounds, and for someone who runs the floor and shoots as wellas he does, along with working his tail off, he could be tough to stop overthe next three years."