Published March 14. 2013 4:00AM
New York - His first Big East tournament game, like the start of his Providence College basketball career, had its share of speed bumps.
Kris Dunn and his fellow Friars fell behind early and never recovered, losing to Cincinnati, 61-44, at Madison Square Garden.
The experience was invaluable for Dunn, the former New London All-American guard, part of his freshman education.
As the starting point guard, Dunn struggled at times in Wednesday's Big East tournament second game, finishing with four points, seven rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes.
"The Big East tournament is a whole different beast," PC associate head coach Andre LaFleur said. "This was his first experience. I'm very confident that he's going to really grow from this experience."
Considering he missed the first nine games with a shoulder injury, Dunn made significant progress this season. He showed off his versatility and promise for the future.
In his debut on Dec. 18, Dunn tied the program's freshman record for assists with 13 in a win over Colgate. He had 13 points and seven rebounds against Villanova on Jan. 19 and grabbed a career-best 12 rebounds against St. John's on March 2.
He came into the Big East tournament game averaging 5.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He's played with poise beyond his years this season, recording more assists (65) than turnovers (44), and is considered a terrific defender.
"I'm not satisfied overall as a team because we should have got farther in the Big East (tournament)," Dunn said of his season. "Our goal was to make it to the NCAA tournament. "For me, I'm satisfied with my play because I always play hard no matter what."
For example, take Wednesday's game.
Dunn was not an offensive threat, converting just one of four shots. But he used his quickness and athletic 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame to battle inside for rebounds against bigger and stronger opponents.
During one defensive possession, the fearless freshman secured the rebound in the crowd of Bearcats and drew a foul.
"Since I was a little kid, my dad just told me to play hard and it doesn't matter how big someone is, you've got to just keep playing," Dunn said.
During his senior season at New London, Dunn regularly racked up double-doubles. He's capable of doing the same thing at the major Division I level despite his size.
"He's a tough kid," LaFleur said. "In high school, he was close to triple-doubles a lot because he goes in there and throws his body around. It's probably one of the reasons that he got his shoulder injury. He's physical player and not afraid to mix it up and stick his nose in there. That's one of his strengths.
"He has a great attitude, great work ethic. He's still coming along. He's just a young player who we expect to be great in the program."
Dunn is looking forward to taking another giant step forward in his development during the offseason. His shoulder injury robbed him of valuable practice time last summer and fall.
He'll focus on his ball-handling skills and improving his perimeter game.
"I think I can be a better leader for my teammates," Dunn said. "Whatever it will take to get my team to win, whether that's scoring or getting my teammates more involved, I am going to try to do. I'm going to try to be a scoring threat next year.
"… Next year, we're going to have a great team."
With guard Vincent Council graduating, Dunn will be at the controls next season. Council is a big Kris Dunn fan.
"I think he has a promising future for Providence College," Council said. "He's been better every day and every game."
Dunn's summer plans include trying out for the Under-19 U.S. basketball team. He recently received an invitation to the camp that will be held in late June in Colorado.
He attended a national team tryout last summer but returned home after injuring his shoulder and had surgery in July.
Finally healthy, he hopes to make the team this summer.
"It was a surprise especially coming off the injury that I had," said Dunn of the invitation. "And I didn't get to be the offensive threat that I wanted to be on the court. … It's going to be a great opportunity."
Dunn's college season might not be over just yet. Providence (17-14) is a candidate for an NIT bid.