Former walk-on getting it done for NAU

Former walk-on getting it done for NAU

Published Jan. 10, 2012 3:27 p.m. ET

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's basketball team is coming off a tough road trip to the Northwest and returns to face the Montana schools this week in a pair of important home games. One of the bright spots of late is the play junior guard Michael Dunn, who is making an impression with his defensive play and recent offensive output.

“I just try and come in and do my part and be that spark off the bench,” said Dunn after practice on Monday. “Whether it is offensively or defensively, I try to pick up my teammates. It feels good to contribute. Hopefully I can keep it going for the rest of the season.”

Dunn scored a career-high 16 points against Portland State, shooting 5 for 7 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers and a perfect night at the line (4 for 4). He added eight points at Eastern Washington on Saturday.

While the improved scoring punch is a nice addition, Dunn has worked his way on the court with his effort and intensity.

“I have to focus and know the opponents,” said Dunn. “When I get in, I need to make sure I keep the mistakes to a minimum and do everything I can to help my team. Whether it is rebounding, defense or making an open shot, I just want to make that play for my team.”

Dunn’s defensive effort has drawn the attention of his coaches, who look to him to help the team get stops and focus on the top opponents in isolation settings. The Lumberjacks rank among the worst teams in the country in both field-goal percentage defense and 3-point field goal percentage defense. NAU is ranked 328th of 338 schools in Division I at 49.4 percent in field-goal percentage defense and 324th in guarding the 3-point line. Dunn hopes to help improve those numbers.

“I try to base my play on my defense and have it translate into my offense,” said Dunn. “If I can be the guy to take the opponent’s best player, it is the challenge that I want. I want to take the Damian Lillard's and Will Cherry’s. I want to be the guy who they can say we need a stop and let’s put this guy on him. That is the guy I want to be. I am really looking forward to going against those guys. They are really good.”

The Lumberjacks face Montana’s Cherry (14.7 ppg.) on Thursday and travel to Weber State next week to take on the Lillard, the nation’s top scorer at 26.3 points per game and current USBWA National Player of the Week.

“Michael Dunn has great respect from his teammates and his coaches,” said interim coach Dave Brown. “He is earning that respect. We want to keep him in there to get the stops. He is playing excellent basketball for the Lumberjacks. Hopefully we can get others to match his intensity.”

The next test comes Thursday night against Montana at 6:35 p.m. at the Rolle Activity Center. Montana is off to a 3-0 in league play with wins over Portland State and Eastern Washington at home and at Idaho State. Overall, the Griz (10-5) have won five straight.

“Rebounding is something big that we have been preaching here lately,” said Dunn. “It hurt us this past weekend in the Northwest. If we can rebound and stay focused and be prepared for the game, they have some big guys and they are going to try and feed it down low. If we can defend their inside presence and rebound, we should be pretty good.”

Dunn originally came to NAU as a walk-on to the program from Chandler High School, where he was a three-sport standout. He was a three-year letter winner and two-year starter on the basketball team, helping his school beat top-seeded Highland in the 5A State Championships, the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 in state history. He was also three-year letter winner in football, averaging 14.5 yards per catch, and four-year letter winner in track and field, leading his team to two state championships in 2005 and 2006. He recorded three top-10 individual finishes in the triple jump, placing fourth twice.

In addition to his increased playing time (20.2 minutes per game over the last three games), Dunn will be playing on scholarship this semester for the first time.

“It is definitely a blessing,” said Dunn. “I have always been the type of player who has earned what he has got. It never felt different. I was always on the team and got the same treatment as the other guys. But to know the three years I have been here that my hard work has not gone unnoticed is really good. I appreciate everything. I am not going to stop working hard.”

Dunn is active off the court, developing into one of the team’s leaders. While he has been making an impression, he can also give one with spot-on takes on his coaches and even Voice of the Lumberjacks Mitch Strohman and his game-day intensity on the game broadcasts. (Check out Dunn’s impressions on YouTube)

Dunn is also active via Twitter (@1andDUNN), one of several Lumberjacks active in social media.

“I like to stay active on Twitter,” said Dunn, who has made more than 11,000 tweets on his account. “I like to keep people up whether we are on our way to the game or post some pics from the arena. I want to keep people in the loop because I know I have some people from Lumberjack Nation that follow me. I try to keep them updated and give them an inside look. I just try to keep people entertained.”

Dunn will take to the stage on the Rolle Activity Center court again Thursday, looking to earn another impressive review.
The game can be heard on the Lumberjack Radio Network and will be televised by NAU TV. The game can be seen on Fox College Sports and on local cable in Flagstaff on Channel 4, as well as online on NAU TV and Big Sky TV. The game is men’s basketball camper reunion night with each camper getting in free with a paying adult. There will also be special ticket rate for the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Flagstaff.