By Steve Shaff, NAU Media Relations
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Senior guard Mike Dunn did not expect to have this opportunity - playing a major role with a scholarship on a Division I program. Thanks to his hard work and dedication, he does. Entering the stretch run of his senior season, he is taking time every day to make the most of his experience in a Northern Arizona University basketball uniform.
"It has been a blessing to be here," said Dunn. "I would not trade it for any other experience."
Dunn was a three-sport standout at Chandler High School. He was a three-year letter winner and two-year starter on the basketball squad, helping defeat top-seeded Highland in the 5A State Championship. His team was the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in state of Arizona high school history.
He also was a three-year letter winner for the marquee football program at Chandler, averaging 14.5 yards per catch as a wide receiver. In the spring, he lettered in track and field, leading the team to two state championships in 2005 and 2006, while recording three top 10 individual finishes in the triple jump at the state meet.
He hoped to play basketball in college. Despite his skills and team success, he did not get recruited.
"Everyone always hopes they get the opportunity," said Dunn. "But getting down into my senior year in high school, I was not getting the calls. I came from a high school where a lot of my friends were recruited highly. I was not getting those same calls. To graduate and not have the calls, you wonder, 'Is it going to happen for me?'
Dunn attended ASU and took a year off from playing basketball to see if he missed it. He did.
"I always stayed optimistic and made it for myself because I wanted it that bad," said Dunn. "I was determined to get it and I got it."
Dunn walked on prior to the 2009-10 season and immediately earned the respect of his teammates for his work ethic.
"He has always played hard," said senior guard Gabe Rogers. "When he came in as a walk-on, it was the first thing (he showed us). He also had the physical abilities. He works extremely hard. When he first got out here, he was already good. But he has grown so much."
Dunn played seven games during his first season and 17 as a sophomore. He came off the bench to score a career-high nine points at Montana State, going 4-for-4 from the field and 1-for-1 from the line in eight minutes with a career-high three steals to highlight his second campaign.
He had a much bigger impact last season. He saw action in all 29 games and made 14 starts. He started to develop a reputation for his work on the defensive end, earning assignments against the top players in the conference such as Weber State's Damian Lillard.
He also averaged 6.8 points per game and 3.0 rebounds, scoring in double digits eight times and resetting his career-high point total three times.
He was awarded a scholarship during the season, a rare accomplishment for a walk-on entering his final year.
"It means a lot," said Dunn. "I am finally coming full circle. I came here working hard as a walk-on and never thought I would have the opportunity to play. I actually got on the team and did not have a big role at first. As the years went on my role grew in practice and even in the games."
The former walk-on has become a fan favorite and one of the faces of the program during his senior year. He represented the team on the preseason schedule poster and traveled to Phoenix for the #NAUtakeover media tour with Head Coach Jack Murphy prior to the season.
Dunn's improved play has been evident in an increased scoring punch.
"My teammates have told me to be confident and they need me to knock down open shots," said Dunn. "I try to go into games confident. I was not as confident earlier in the year. I was relying too much on one facet of the game. I can contribute in multiple ways. I am taking that advice."
Dunn has reached double figures five times this season and had a career high 17 points at BYU on 7-of-9 shooting from the field.
It has been a memorable four years for the former walk-on. Dunn is not just taking mental pictures but documenting his final season with his ever present camera on road trips.
"It is a whirlwind," said Dunn. "I try not to think about it but I do think about it because I cherish those things. When we were in Portland, I walked around and took a lot of pictures. I am cherishing every last moment I have with my teammates."
While Dunn's career has been a quite a story, there is only one way to end the final chapter – a trip to the Big Sky Tournament. It is the goal for Dunn and his teammates and opens up the potential to greater opportunities.
"Once we can start putting the ball in the basket and play with high intensity, the sky is the limit for this team," said Dunn. "We want to turn it around. We have to start making a push here."
NAU plays host to Northern Colorado on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 6:35 p.m. and North Dakota on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 2:05 p.m. Both games are in the Walkup Skydome. Single-game tickets can be purchased by calling the NAU Central Ticket Office at 928-523-5661.
Northern Colorado (5-11, 3-5)