Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 19, 2014

Dunning creates optimism for Blues

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — When Shakir Dunning arrived at Bluefield State as a potential basketball player for the Big Blues, Jamaal Jackson had one request.

“One of the things that I told him when he came on his visit,” he said. “I need you to come here for one reason and that is to produce. He told me, ‘You won’t have a problem with that’ and he has been true to his word.”

Very. Just check out what Dunning did on Saturday, scoring 32 points in Bluefield State’s 79-72 win over Ohio Valley. He made three 3s, was 13-for-13 from the free throw line, provided three assists, two steals and two rebounds, all while guarding the Scots’ prolific leading scorer, Sequan Lawrence.

“I like to win,” Dunning said. “I am trying to change the culture so I am trying to do the best I can.”

So far so good.

Dunning could have been doing this for Kent State. A product of Columbus, Ohio, Dunning signed with NCAA Division I Golden Flashes, but was ineligible for all but two games with transcript problems as a freshman and missed his sophomore season with a knee injury.

“I had got hurt. My sophomore year I had tore my lateral menisisus and my playing time was going to decrease,” Dunning said. “They just started getting more people and I wanted to play right away.”

Dunning learned about Bluefield State from a coach in Columbus who knew of Jackson and they made contact.

Call that a good call for Jackson. who has been pleased to have Dunning, who is just a redshirt sophomore, on his side.

“They have him down for three assists tonight, but I think he may have had more than that,” Jackson said. “He has been scoring it all season.

“It is hard to be the leading scorer and then guard the best man on offense, but he is really doing a great job.... He can play. He can score it.”

How good? Dunning matched his season-high for points with 32 against Ohio Valley, the third time he has reached that mark. He has led the Big Blues in scoring in the last 13 games, providing 22.6 points a game.

That is not all. Dunning is also providing 2.5 rebounds, and has had 34 steals and 22 assists in 16 games. He can also shoot, making 43.0 percent of his field goal attempts, including 36.0 from 3-point range.

And, Dunning is adept at getting to the free throw line. He has taken 145 charity tosses this season, and made 80.7 percent of them.

“My dad always told me free throws are free throws,” Dunning said. “You should never miss free throws.”

Dunning, who is majoring in business administration, is still adjusting to small town life in Bluefield after living in thriving Columbus.

He knows how to spend any free time he might have.

“It is nice, it is just hard keeping yourself busy,” Dunning said. “If you are not doing work or here in the gym, it is just hard to find stuff to do.

“I stay in the gym and work on my craft.”

It shows. Dunning changed his game as a prep player in Columbus, trying to become more well-rounded to attract the attention of college coaches.

“Actually growing up I was really just a slasher,” Dunning said. “Getting toward my junior and senior year in high school, I was told I needed to work on my jump shot so I spent hours in the gym working on it.”

That work has paid off, and the Big Blues are benefiting. Dunning has joined a program that has struggled mightily on the floor over the past decade, but he hopes to be around to help change those fortunes for the Big Blues.

“Unless something changes, I will be here, I will be here in Bluefield rocking,” said Dunning, with a smile. “We are trying to turn it all the way around.”

Bluefield State is just 5-11 on the season, but have been within 17 in all of those losses, and within nine in five of them. No wonder Jackson and Dunning were all smiles after a second win over Ohio Valley this season.

“Jamaal told me they haven’t really got this amount of wins in a long time,” Dunning said, “but at the same time we can’t be pleased with that because we want to take it to another level.”

It’s not just offense. Dunning also helped a defensive effort that held the Scots to 72 points and 33.3 percent from the field. Ohio Valley scored 102 in their meeting last month.

“Today we were really focused in on defense, team defense,” he said. “We have really been working on our patience and helping out.”

With so many new parts, it will take time for the Big Blues to blend into a team, but if Jackson can keep the current club together — retention has been an issue for Bluefield State — the future should continue to be brighter for Bluefield State.

“Especially, Dunning is new, (Dominique) Cartier is new, and they are playing major minutes, Sergio Smith is new, and he is playing major minutes,” Jackson said. “When you have guys playing together it just takes time to gel and really get that chemistry going.

“I was looking at our schedule. We had our 46th practice this past Tuesday, last year our 46th practice would be like some time in December so we are just now really getting to gel and that chemistry is coming along  

Once that happens, Dunning likes the possibilities.

“It is a new team, “ Dunning said. “We are just now really figuring out how to jell and how to play together as one, it is going to come eventually.”

Having to play this season as an independent has meant the Big Blues have had to take on a wide range of opponents, many on the road, including at Division I foes VMI and Longwood, and trips to Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and throughout West Virginia.

“It has been tough to get used to, but after three or four trips your body kind of gets used to it and you adjust to it,” Dunning said. “It is tough sometimes, but we have got to find a way to fight through it.”

The same goes for academics, which is ultimately what matters most at this particular level.

“It is hard keeping up with work, but the teachers here work with us so they are not too hard on us,” he said. “They will work with us.”

Jackson has been given the opportunity to build a program, and the Big Blues are doing just that. Dunning is glad to be a part of it, not only this year, but in 2014-15 and beyond.

“Right now I am just focused on finishing off this year,” he said, with a smile, “but next year we should be looking even better.”

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph.  He can be contacted at bwoodson@bdtonline.com or @bdtwoodson.