John Dunne, head men’s basketball coach, has changed the program. And he’s just getting started.
Building a functional basketball team that wins games is not all about the talent on the roster. There’s much more than recruiting talent and translating it to a winning record. A certain type of culture needs to be established in order to motivate the entire team. Throughout the past three years, that has been the goal of John Dunne, Marist men’s head basketball coach. He wanted to create a culture of accountability for both him and his players, and honesty to help them grow their game.
Dunne holds his players to a high standard on and off the court. His hardcore attitude is a change of pace from the previous coaching staff which had a more laid-back style. No matter what the score of the game is, Dunne is coaching his players hard, trying to help them learn from their mistakes and fix it for future games. “I do think it starts with bringing in the guys that want to be coached hard and are competitive. It starts there,” said Dunne.
The Men’s team had their first winning season since the 2007-2008 season this year, finishing with a 12-8 regular season record. The Red Foxes also clinched a first-round bye in the MAAC Tournament. The records in the first two seasons of Dunne’s career at Marist were 12-19 and 7-23 respectively. Dunne’s methods are working, and making an impact faster than expected.
In Dunne’s first two seasons he still had some recruits from the previous coaching staff, but now in his third season he is showing off his recruiting skills by showcasing some freshmen that have provided a spark for the Red Foxes’ this season.
Freshmen such as Hakim Byrd and Ricardo Wright have stepped up to the challenge and have bought into Dunne’s system. Due to redshirt senior leading scorer Michael Cubbage going down with an injury early in the season, both players have been able to get serious playing time. Dunne has made it clear that age doesn’t matter on this team. If they can play and compete, then they will get playing time.
Byrd has become comfortable in Poughkeepsie, and the team has made him feel like he’s been here for a while. “The older guys give me the confidence and the coaching staff too,” said Byrd. “I feel like I’ve been here for a while, like I’m not really new.”
A large part of Dunne’s success thus far has come from his openness and honesty with his players. He realizes that he will not always be right with his decisions, but he wants to have an honest relationship with his players and coaching staff. Building the chemistry off the court translates to trust and leadership on the court. “I’m going to be fair, and I’m going to be open and honest,” said Dunne. “That doesn’t mean I will be right every decision I make, but I’m going to be open, honest, and truthful.”
Dunne chose not to start any team mottos for the season that would be used in pregame speeches or halftime pump-ups. Instead, he trains their mental and physical toughness by preparing for the opponent. Preparation is the key to Dunne’s system because he believes that is what separates good teams and great teams.
“‘Physical toughness, mental strength’ is on the wall in the locker room, but we really talk about having the willingness to prepare. Everybody wants to win, but not everybody has the willingness to prepare to win,” said Dunne. “That’s where we want to separate ourselves from the next program.”
Byrd has realized how important preparation for games is since arriving at Marist. He realizes the differences between playing high school basketball and college basketball, and Dunne has been an integral part in his transition. “I learned coming into college this year that it’s more about preparation for games than going out there and playing like in high school,” said Byrd.
The impression Dunne has made on his players has sparked them to play for each other. Senior walk-on player Terrence Echols, who started on the team his freshman year as a team manager, has seen the shift in coaching style with his own eyes. He feels comfortable, along with the rest of his teammates to be vocal with each other.
“My freshman year we weren’t leading any conversations in the locker room…we kept to ourselves, kept quiet,” said Echols. “Now this year especially you see a lot of people talking. It doesn’t matter who is talking, everyone will listen, and everyone respects everyone.”
The team used to consist of cliques within the locker room, where veteran players separated themselves from the young ones. This resulted in a toxic locker room, but that changed when Dunne arrived.
Throughout this season, Echols and his teammates have become family. “It’s a little bit more like a family atmosphere, whereas before it was more senior dominated,” said Echols.
Preparation, honestly, and hard work. A simple, but effective game plan that has worked for the Red Foxes this season. Dunne has laid the groundwork for this program and he has young talent that will help continue their success into the future. Byrd has his eyes set on winning a MAAC Championship and making it to the NCAA Tournament before his time ends at Marist. That leadership is built by Dunne’s relentless attitude to win.
Dunne was named a Skip Prosser Man of the Year finalist by CollegeInsider.com on March 8. The award is given to a head coach who succeeds on the court and shows integrity off the court. In addition, Ricardo Wright and Hakim Byrd were named to the MAAC All-Rookie Team.
Edited by Bridget Reilly and Nicholas Stanziale
Graphic Credit: Kristin Flanigan