Published November 11. 2012 4:00AM
Providence - An hour before the regular-season opener Saturday, Kris Dunn participated in drills with his Providence College teammates.
Dunn caught a pass, lined up a 3-pointer from the corner and swished home the shot. He glided down the lane and made a nice spin move before finishing off a layup.
He basically looked like the same Kris Dunn who earned McDonald's All-America honors at New London High School last season.
But when the game against New Jersey Institute of Technology began, Dunn remained on the bench. He has yet to be cleared to play, still recovering from right shoulder surgery in July.
"People thought I was going to play, because I had my warmups on," Dunn said after Providence escaped with a 64-63 win at the Dunkin Donuts Center. "They just want me to get a little more extra time in shooting and just get a feel of how they warm up."
Good thing Dunn didn't have his uniform on under his sweats. He might have jumped off the bench and entered the game when star point guard Vincent Council suffered a hamstring injury only a few minutes into the first half and didn't return.
The injury to Council makes it tempting to speed up Dunn's return. Of course, PC isn't about to take any chances with their talented newcomer. He just started dribbling late last month and shooting from 3-point line last week.
"He wants to get out there," associate head coach Andre LaFleur said. "For it to heal permanently, it just takes time, especially with a shoulder joint. … We play physical, so we can't risk him getting injured."
Dunn, who does everything in practice but contact drills, is pain free. He's working on strengthening his shoulder and conditioning. He's making a contribution by running the scout team in practice and encouraging his teammates.
"I can do everything like a normal regular basketball player," Dunn said. "I feel like when I first picked up a ball when I was little. It feels good. They said during the process you're going to feel like you can play but you're not physically ready yet."
It's been a physically and mentally trying rehabilitation process for Dunn who's never had a significant injury. He's struggled at times to deal the layoff, according to LaFleur, but is coping just fine now.
"I never went through an experience like this before," Dunn said. "Sitting on the sidelines is something new to me. But I know that I've got to cheer for my teammates and make sure they are playing well and playing hard at the same time."
While there is no target date for his first game, Dunn expects to be back by the Big East opener Jan. 2 at Louisville.
LaFleur is optimistic that Dunn will play before that date. PC has non-conference games at Boston College Dec. 22 and at Brown Dec. 28.
"Ideally, we'd like to get him a few games under his belt so he can get acclimated to college basketball," LaFleur said. "You don't want your first game being a Big East game."
Once Dunn is cleared to play, he'll immediately become a key part of the rotation. The Friars are very thin, as several players, including highly-touted Ricky Ledo, are sitting out this season. The program's future is promising.
Until Dunn makes his much-anticipated debut, he'll continue to field questions about his status.
"I get that text message every day from people back in New London," Dunn said. "They just want to see me play just like I used to play for them back when I was in New London."