For the Providence Friars, the weeks following March's NCAA Tournament had become a bit of a waiting game. Following a Round of 64 exit to the Dayton Flyers, it was no secret that the Friars were going to lose leading scorer LaDontae Henton (who most recently played in the NBA Summer League with the Golden State Warriors) to graduation, but the team's future remained up in the air for guard Kris Dunn.
Dunn, who had just completed a redshirt sophomore campaign that saw him earn co-Big East Player of the Year honors and lead the conference in both assists (7.6) and steals (2.8) per game, had found himself in situation few college players are lucky enough to reach: make the jump to the NBA as a surefire first round pick, or return to school with eyes set on becoming his team's official alpha dog. Foregoing the draft was going to be risky, especially as his stock rose into the late lottery, but in the end, the allure of a Providence return proved to be too strong for Dunn.
In an official statement released by the Friars in late April, Dunn announced his intentions to return for his redshirt junior season. "I have seen this program accomplish a lot over the last three seasons and I would like to be part of some more success," Dunn said in the statement. "I really enjoy being around my teammates, coaches and all the friends and family I have in Friartown."
It's probably safe to say they'll enjoy having him around next season just as much. After coming to Providence as a highly-touted recruit, Dunn struggled to stay healthy during his first two years with the Friars as back-to-back injuries to the same shoulder forced him to redshirt and miss the final 28 games of the 2013-14 season. Returning last season at full health, Dunn established himself as the Big East's premiere point guard and breakout player of the year. Fully unleashed next to Henton, he boasted the rare combination of scoring, passing and defense that coaches drool over, and his lengthy frame (he was measured with a 6'9" wingspan at the 2015 Nike Skills Academy) gave him a physical advantage over his collegiate counterparts.
Decorated with the aforementioned accolades and conference Defensive Player of the Year honors, Dunn turned out to be well worth the two year wait for the Friars, and this year will present new challenges as Providence head coach Ed Cooley looks to take his team to yet another NCAA Tournament. Without Henton, forward Tyler Harris (transferred to Auburn in the offseason) and center Carson Desrosiers (graduation) in the lineup, Dunn will have to shoulder much more of the scoring load than he did last season, and the weapons around him will be much more unproven when he looks to flash his passing skillset.
This is both good and bad for the Friars, since they'll want the ball to be in Dunn's hands as much as possible, but will have to deal with the risks that come with that. Even though Dunn averaged 15.6 points per game last season (sixth in the Big East), he also averaged a disappointing 4.2 turnovers per game and often struggled to take care of the ball. Some of this comes with experience, and another year of seasoning should help his in-game decision making, especially since he'll most likely be dishing it out less than he did last year while sharing the floor with Henton and Harris. He'll need to improve his touch at the rim, especially since his explosiveness gives him an attacking advantage against defenders and opens the floor for the team's shooters.
We're going to find out a lot about Dunn this season as the pressure increases and his role expands, and he'll surely be the pre-season favorite to repeat as conference player of the year. Hell, DraftExpress already has Dunn pegged as the No. 8 pick in the 2016 Draft should he decide to forgo his final year of eligibility next summer. He's easily the most watchable player in the conference, and it should be a blast to watch him continue to grow as a player. In the end, returning to Providence was a big gamble for Dunn, but for Big East fans, this was the best case scenario.