Boys Basketball: Joliet West’s Morris Dunnigan the Herald-News 2012-13 Player of the Year
By Dick Goss email@example.com March 20, 2013 9:16PM
Morris Dunnigan, a senior at Joliet West High School, is the Herald-News boys basketball player of the year as seen Wednesday, March 13, 2013, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 22, 2013 10:00AM
A few years ago, Morris Dunnigan was ranked among the best basketball players in Illinois’ Class of 2013.
The exciting, multitalented guard, already playing on the Joliet West varsity as a freshman, was in the team picture with the likes of Simeon’s Jabari Parker.
But Dunnigan also was a wide receiver and kick returner in football. In the final game of his sophomore season, he tore the ACL in his left knee. He managed to play four basketball games that season, but the knee was bothering him, so he went to the doctor.
“I saw I had to have surgery in December,” Dunnigan recalled. “They told it would be a six-month rehab, and that’s about what it was.
“I have no regrets about playing football, though. I liked the game, the contact.”
Although he eased back into basketball the following summer, his football career was over. He played the subsequent basketball season, his junior year, at something less than 100 percent.
An offseason of hard work later, the 6-foot-2 Dunnigan was much stronger as a senior. He averaged 17.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals. He got the ball to the basket with renewed aggression. He took over games, leading West, one of the Joliet area’s top-ranked teams all season, to a 19-8 record and a berth in the Class 4A Thornton Sectional semifinals.
Fans still rave about Dunnigan’s dunk over Curie’s touted 6-9 junior Cliff Alexander at Pontiac.
Put all that together and you have the Player of the Year on the Herald-News 2012-13 All-Area Boys Basketball Team.
“You never want to see any athlete miss time,” West coach Luke Yaklich said. “But with Morris, the (ACL) injury is a big part of the picture. It helped him develop. He’s hungrier now. He works harder. He prepares his entire body and his mind as well.”
Yaklich called Dunnigan’s story a transformation of mind and body.
“It was difficult on him for a long time because he knew what he could do and his body would not let him do it,” Yaklich said. “This year he averaged close to 20 points. His junior year I think he had one or two 20-point games all season.
“It was a great thing that he was able to overcome the way he did. He and his teammates were rewarded with a great season, which will allow him to open more doors.”
It will begin at Vincennes (Ind.) University as Dunnigan, who was a third team selection on the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association 3A/4A All-State list, continues his career at a name Division I junior college.
“I think I will fit in well at Vincennes,” he said. “I’ll play the point unless they want me someplace else. I like having the ball.”
His basketball journey does not figure to end at Vincennes, either. Not anymore.
“If you had asked Morris in his sophomore year, he would have said he doesn’t think he is going to college,” Yaklich said. “Where he is now is a testament to his maturity, work ethic and overall mental approach toward school and basketball.
“Now he is going to a major junior college, and if he does what he should there, a major Division I program after that. Lots of big-time programs would want a strong guard who is a good shooter, a willing passer and physical.”
Strong. Physical. Those adjectives may not have been used to describe the pre-injury Dunnigan.
“I put on 12 pounds, all muscle, for senior year,” Dunnigan said. “I wasn’t quite 100 percent last season. I was this year.
“Freshman year, it was hard to get to the rim. Now it’s much easier. I’m definitely stronger.”
Boxing training helped.
“I had a trainer when I was recovering, and he said boxing training would be best for me,” Dunnigan said. “You use your hands so much in boxing that you don’t even think about your feet.”
Besides starring in basketball and football, Dunnigan was quite the baseball player. He played baseball until eighth grade.
“Actually, baseball is my best sport; it just wasn’t my favorite sport,” he said. “My uncle had his own team that I played for.”
Basketball is his game, and he has game. The best part is, his story may be far from complete.