With three teams in the AP Top 10, the Big 12 conference is — behind the Big East — the strongest in college basketball. Baylor is not one of those Top-10 squads, but the 20th-ranked Bears (17-4) are creeping up on their top-heavy conference: beating Texas on the road last weekend, as well as losing close games to Kansas and Kansas State recently.
Coach Scott Drew has rebuilt a program that was in disarray just a few years ago following the Patrick Dennehy/Carlton Dotson murder case and the violations later uncovered under ex-coach Dave Bliss. (Dotson is currently serving a 35-year prison term; Bliss is no longer coaching.)
On the court, LaceDarius Dunn is the Bears’ leader. The No. 3 scorer in the Big 12 (18.5 ppg) is knocking down 41 percent of his threes, and so far this season has dropped 28 points on Oklahoma, 27 on Kansas, and 25 on OK State. In Dime #53, I profiled Dunn going into his junior season:
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If you followed the high school career of LaceDarius Dunn when he starred at Excelsior Christian in Monroe, La., it might seem unlikely that he would become one of the top backcourt snipers in college basketball.
At Excelsior, the 6-4 Dunn spent most of his time far away from the three-point arc, playing forward and sometimes center for an undersized team. He averaged 27 points and 13 rebounds as a junior, 34 and nine as a senior, and wrapped up his prep career with two Louisiana state Player of the Year trophies and one state championship — a resume that could easily have been mistaken for fellow Louisiana product Greg Monroe, the 6-11 sophomore center at Georgetown (an All-American at Helen Cox H.S. in New Orleans).
Since coming to Baylor, however, Dunn switched positions and switched his game up. As a sophomore last season he dropped 109 threes, tops in the Big 12 and a new school record, on his way to averaging 15.7 points and winning conference Sixth Man of the Year honors. In one game against Kansas State, Dunn hit nine threes (33 pts), and earlier in the season, hit seven triples against Jacksonville. He also stuck six threes apiece in games against Arizona State and Kansas, and threw in another six treys in Baylor’s NIT semifinal win over San Diego State. For the season he shot 38.8 percent beyond the arc.
“Back in AAU, I played guard, and sometimes I played point guard in high school,” Dunn says. “But coming here trying to adapt to playing the one and two all the time, it was tough. The game is faster. There’s better defenders who can stick you better. They know what they’re doing.”
With star guards Curtis Jerrells and Henry Dugat having graduated, Dunn will be expected to pick up the slack for the NIT runners-up. He is a solid rebounder for his position (4.9 rpg) and makes things happen on defense (1.1 spg), but has drawn criticism for his gunner mentality. In 16 conference games last season, he recorded all of two assists. Total. But in his defense, distributing isn’t what Bears coach Scott Drew asked Dunn to do. His job was to knock down shots, and few players in the country did it more profusely.
“My role is just to come in and get the job done — do whatever I gotta do,” Dunn says. “If they want me to score, rebound, play defense, play point guard … I’ll do it. We want to win the Big 12 and get to the NCAA Tournament; that starts with me being a leader. Not just being the player I’ve been the last two years, but working harder and stepping my game up to another level.”
His bread and butter is still the outside shot, though, something he works on tirelessly. On game days, Dunn gets on the court before the rest of his teammates begin warm-ups, shooting by himself for about 15 minutes, mixing up threes and mid-range jumpers and concentrating on keeping the same form every time.
“It starts with confidence. If you believe you can shoot, you can shoot,” Dunn says. “When I hit nine (threes) against Kansas State, I was just feeling it, and my teammates were getting me shots. When you’re hitting ‘em like that, the rim feels wider. Your confidence goes higher. When I make two or three in a row, my confidence goes out of the gym; the first thing on my mind when I get the ball is ‘Let it go.’ My teammates tell me to let it go, too. They want me to shoot if I’m feeling it.
“Sometimes you’re having a bad day, but good day or bad day, a shooter don’t stop shooting. That’s what my teammates preach to me. If I’m 0-for-3, they tell me keep shooting and eventually some of them will fall. Maybe I need to stay in the gym after and get more shots up or come in early, but I’m never gonna stop shooting.”
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