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John Dunne has Marist moving up the MAAC

How John Dunne is turning Marist into a MAAC contender.

NCAA Basketball: St. Peter’s at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Halfway between New York City and Albany, you’ll find the campus of Marist College in Poughkeepsie. It’s here, through hard work, recruiting high character players, and an intense focus on preparation, that John Dunne is working to build up another MAAC program into a contender.

By looking at a program three years into a new coach’s tenure you get a good measuring point for how the building process is going and what the future might look like. The first year can always be an interesting one for a new head coach as they inherit a team they didn’t recruit and one that has most likely been utilizing a different style of play.

“Year one we had a lot of seniors and honestly you come in, you want to instill your philosophy and your culture but you know that you’re really not going to be starting the [rebuilding] process until the following year because you’re going to lose all your seniors. So that first year was just about trying to get as many wins as we could with the seniors and try to get the ball rolling a little bit,” Dunne said.

Getting the ball rolling is exactly what they did as the Red Foxes doubled their win total from six to 12, but coach Dunne knew year two would be a tough one.

“Going into year two you know you’re basically starting over from that point because you have a lot of new faces. The team is completely new. We knew there was a chance to have a little bit of a setback from the prior year since we were so inexperienced.”

The team struggled throughout the season, only winning seven games and at one point losing 11 straight. Working through a tough season, Coach Dunne saw room for growth and how he could work towards building a more competitive team in the future.

“We pretty much pinpointed why we couldn’t get over the hump with more wins in year two and that was because we didn’t have enough toughness. We certainly knew we had good character, we had above-average shooting, but we didn’t have any playmaking, so that was our focus in recruiting and we think we’ve added that.”

Now, in year three of the Dunne era, you’re seeing this young playmaking talent on display. A season-ending injury to senior Michael Cubbage has forced the younger players to step up. Whether it is freshman Hakim Byrd — who has served as a great scoring punch off the bench — or another freshman guard in Ricardo Wright — a big guard that can not only shoot but can drive and put the ball in the basket — the young talent is starting to shine at Marist.

“We really like our young nucleus and the idea for us is taking those guys and adding them into the mix with our returners that had really good strengths of their own and we believe that we have a chance to become pretty good. We wholeheartedly know that we’re on the right track,” Dunne said.

The infusion of playmaking from the freshmen along with the other returners on Marist has gotten them off to a 6-2 start, the team’s best since the 2007-08 season.

Senior Jordan Jones has been here since Coach Dunne’s first year and has seen the rebuilding process pan out. He sees something different in this year’s team. “

We have a lot of ball-handling and guys that can play off the bounce and get others involved. We have a lot of unselfish players.”

Jones epitomizes what Dunne is trying to build at Marist.

“JJ is a mature young man who we value just as much off the court as we do on the court. He’s a positive presence for our program in the locker room and on campus,” said Dunne.

The first three years of the Dunne era at Marist have featured a variety of highs and lows. Even through the lows of a seven-win season the team’s preparation never wavered.

“We played extremely hard and we always had the will to prepare and win. That’s really hard to do when you’re not winning games and on an 11 game losing streak,” Dunne said.

While some may have looked at a seven-win season and seem unable to find any good to take away, Dunne did more than just that; he saw the vision for the future.

“I think it started with that group from last year and now you add a bit more talent and some playmaking and I think we have the building blocks to have a good future.”