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On paper, Rasheem Dunn isn’t having a better season than he did last year. He’s scoring and rebounding less. His 3-point shooting percentage has dramatically fallen.
But in the area coach Mike Anderson has needed him most — leadership — Dunn has thrived.
He’s willingly taken a back seat to point guard Posh Alexander, serving as a mentor to the Big East frontrunner for Freshman of the Year honors, immeasurably helping the fellow Brooklyn native adjust to college basketball while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s just me looking out for him while he’s here,” said Dunn, who considers himself a big brother figure to Alexander.
He has tried to get Alexander to speak up more. As a point guard, others look up to him. Dunn has emphasized the need for Alexander to use criticism to improve, not let it get him down, to play at different speeds to be tougher to defend.
“Having him as a mentor is great because he is a senior and he is basically showing me how things go,” Alexander said. “I am so grateful to have him as a leader on our team and as a person I can look up too.”
Dunn was St. John’s leading returning scorer from a year ago. The two-time transfer’s season started poorly, though. He suffered a concussion in the opener against St. Peter’s and missed the next five games. He struggled upon his return, but Dunn has played his best of late.
He’s helped St. John’s win five of its last six entering Wednesday night’s game in Queens against No. 3 Villanova, making key plays late in upsets over UConn and Marquette. In that span, he’s averaging 9.0 points, 4.5 assists, and 3.8 rebounds, particularly important since junior guard Greg Williams Jr. has missed the last three-plus games with a back injury.
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Dunn has come up clutch in big spots, especially at the free-throw line, where he has hit 21 of his last 22 attempts. With Alexander having taken off as more of a scorer in recent games, Dunn has settled more into a facilitating role
“I’m riding this wave that’s helping us win,” he said.
Dunn’s future is uncertain. He could return to St. John’s next year due to the NCAA allowing every player an extra year of eligibility because of the virus. He hasn’t thought about it much yet, but did say it is an option he plans to explore.
“It’s definitely something I’m open to me,” Dunn said.
Anderson hasn’t ruled out newcomer Esahia Nyiwe playing this season. Nywie, a one-time Texas Tech signee who enrolled for the second semester, has been practicing for a few weeks, but the 6-foot-10 forward is not yet eligible. St. John’s has applied for a legislative relief waiver, a source said. Since Nyiwe wasn’t enrolled in any school in the fall, the NCAA’s blanket waiver for transfers doesn’t apply to him.
“He’s got some athletic ability, he can block shots,” Anderson said. “He’s trying to figure the things we’re doing offensively and defensively.”