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Dunston is Ram tough

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"He's going to be a great player in this league, no doubt about it," said URI center Marcel Momplaisir, who spent most of the game guarding him. "He's only a freshman. He has so much time to develop."Momplaisir was sitting in the Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx minutes after Marcus Stout hit a 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left to win the game for Fordham. Following the shot, fans stormed the court and swallowed up Stout in a whirlpool of joy. Lost in all the jubilation was the double-teaming of Dunston, a former standout at St. John's Prep, as the play wound down to its conclusion. His double-coverage allowed Stout to get open in the corner for the game-winner.The oversight was understandable since Dunston, a 6-foot-8 forward from LeFrak City, has quietly had one of the most productive freshman campaigns in the country this season.Dunston is the team leader in scoring and rebounding with 14.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game and has been named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week five times."That's his potential," said Fordham second-year coach Dereck Whittenburg. "And what's scary about him is that he can even get better. That's why we're always challenging him to get more consistent, and I think he wants that challenge."In his short time on campus, the poker-faced Dunston has become a fan favorite. One supporter in the student section waved a sign that read: "Dunkin' Dunston" while another held a poster that compared Dunston to Jesus.The Rams were picked to finish last in the Atlantic 10 preseason coaches' poll after finishing 6-22 last season, 3-13 in the conference. With the help of three freshman starters, Fordham is currently fourth in the East division at 7-6 and 11-13 overall and Dunston is a primary reason for the turnaround. He has started every game this season and has recorded seven double-doubles, including 21 points and 19 rebounds in an 84-62 win over St. Bonaventure earlier this month, the sixth time he has scored 20 or more points."He's one of those guys who didn't get a lot of notoriety (out of high school)," Whittenburg said. "He wasn't highly recruited, and now everyone loves him. But to me, this is just the beginning of what he's capable of."Dunston, whose sister, Kiki was a star basketball player at Queens College, averaged 19.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 5 blocks a game as a senior at St. John's Prep, yet only Iona, Saint Peter's, and a few other MAAC schools expressed interest in him. St. John's watched him once at a practice and never returned."There were a lot of players who were ranked higher than me, recruiting wise, who I thought I was better than," Dunston said. "Maybe it was because of the school I went to, but I honestly can't say why (I was under-recruited)."Dunston considered attending city power Christ the King, but hesitated because of the glut of big men already there. He chose St. John's Prep instead, where he was allowed to develop at his own pace and helped the JV team win a CHSAA 'B' championship his sophomore year. His senior season, he lost to LaSalle in the finals of the CHSAA Class B championship, only the second year he was on varsity. Whittenburg sold him on playing time and could relate to his status as an underdog. At North Carolina State in the 80s, Whittenburg was a stocky, undersized guard who most nights was assigned to cover the opposing team's best player. When they played North Carolina, it was a fella named Michael Jordan. He was coached by the late Jim Valvano who in 1983 engineered one of the greatest upsets in NCAA history, beating the University of Houston with Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. "If you inspire players to reach their full potential, then anything is possible," Whittenburg said. "I had a coach who did that with me. He led me to believe that I was the best two guard in the ACC, and I was playing against guys like Jordan, and I believed him, and it elevated my will and drive to perform."Dunston's uncle is former major league baseball player Shawon Dunston. After a prosaic effort against Iona early in the season, Shawon called Bryant's father, Bryant Sr., a former basketball player at Franklin K. Lane, to complain."He said that I came out, scored the first few points, and then completely faded away in the second half, and that's exactly what happened," Dunston said. "He said that if I'm going to be successful, than I have to make my presence felt for the entire game. After the phone call, I began to rebound better. I'm happy with the season so far, but I still have to get better. If we don't get better as a team, then it doesn't really matter."Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 130.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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