Goss: Morris Dunnigan becoming much like teammate Brandon McCullum
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org January 4, 2013 11:46PM
Joliet West's Morris Dunnigan (23) drives to the basket in front of Joliet Central's William Autman (33) held at Joliet West Joliet, Illinois and West won 60-49 on Friday January 04, 2013. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:36AM
Joliet West senior guard Morris Dunnigan has been a varsity basketball player since his freshman year.
There was a time when Tigers coach Luke Yaklich wondered if the kid’s world of talent could or would be melded into one of our area’s — make that the state’s — best players.
No longer. Yaklich is so impressed with what the 6-foot-2 Dunnigan is doing that he speaks of him in glowing terms, suggestive of how he describes his all-time favorite, Tigers senior forward Brandon McCullum.
“Morris Dunnigan is a natural basketball player,” Yaklich said Friday night after Dunnigan dropped 25 points on Joliet Central in the second half to finish with 32 in the Tigers’ 60-49 victory. “He has an incredible feel for the game. He understands how to use his body. He has amazing hands and incredible basketball intelligence.
“He has been one of our hardest practice players. He’s been a pleasure to coach. He is easy to coach. And the big thing is, he has matured a lot. That’s why you need four years of high school.”
What Dunnigan did Friday was not merely dominate on the offensive end, he was money defensively and on the boards. He limited Central’s leading scorer, Jonah Coble, to six points on 1-of-13 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds to boot.
“We watched him (Coble) on film,” Dunnigan said. “He pretty much was doing what he wanted. We wanted to try to slow the ball down and not let him touch it. We did that pretty well.”
McCullum similarly dogged Central’s Jalen Heath and finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Heath scored 15, but some of those came when he was not on McCullum’s watch — for example, a three-pointer from beyond midcourt to end the third quarter.
“I’ve coached tough kids in my career, and there is nobody tougher than Brandon,” Yaklich said. “He is the only one I would say this about — I would not want that guy guarding me.”
Somewhere along the way, Dunnigan, who worked so hard to rehab after suffering an ACL tear as a sophomore, has picked up McCullum’s M.O. Always a flashy player, Dunnigan is so much stronger now. When he wants to go to the basket, when he wants the ball, good luck thwarting him.
Central tried in the second half Friday with quick 6-footer Coble, 6-4 Jarvis Northington, Heath and 5-7 Eddie McElrath. Nothing worked.
“At the time we switched to Jarvis, he was playing well,” Central coach Jeff Corcoran said. “He tried to use his strength, athleticism and long reach to slow Morris down. But Morris is a good player. We’ve watched him do that stuff for four years.”
“The big man (Northington) was a little slower, so I tried to beat him off the dribble,” Dunnigan said. “The other guys were smaller, so I took them to the post to take advantage of the match-ups.”
That’s the thing that impresses me so much about this year’s Dunnigan. He imposes his will, and frankly, even an above-average high school basketball player cannot do much about it.
“Brandon McCullum has always been so tough minded,” Yaklich said. “Morris had to grow into this. He has worked so hard on his weaknesses.”
But 25 points in a half? Are we sure it wasn’t the shoes?
Dunnigan recently tore his team shoes and is waiting for replacements to arrive. Yaklich joked the tear might have happened at Pontiac, on the play where he dunked over Curie’s 6-9 Cliff Alexander.
“Maybe I should have held him out tonight because he didn’t have the right shoes,” Yaklich laughed.
So Dunnigan brought two other pairs of footwear to Friday’s game. Along the lines of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” he said the ones he wore in the first half were too tight. So he changed at halftime.
“There was a little more cushion in the second pair,” he said. “They were more comfortable.”
Central paid the ultimate price.
“This game ain’t for braggin’ rights — but it is,” Dunnigan smiled.
What Dunnigan, McCullum and their teammates did Friday was large on many levels.
First, it made the Tigers 5-0 against Central since the schools returned two separate programs a couple of seasons ago. As Yaklich said, this Central team will beat some people before all is said and done.
Second, with the help of Bolingbrook’s victory over Homewood-Flossmoor, it created a multiteam deadlock atop the SouthWest Suburban Blue.
Third, it ended the Tigers’ two-game losing streak left over from Pontiac.
“Losing those last two at Pontiac left a bad taste in our mouths,” Yaklich said. “We thought we gave away two games, and that changed the way we looked at the week.”
Fourth, more than 2,000 fans showed up to watch in the West fieldhouse.
“I told the kids, there are not many jobs they will have where there are 2,500 people watching you and clapping for something you did,” Yaklich said. “They should enjoy this.”
My guess is they did.