His favorite NBA player is called King.
“LeBron James—because he’s more of an all-around player,” Joliet West’s Morris Dunnigan said. “And that’s how I want to be.”
Dunnigan, the Tigers’ 6-foot-2 senior guard/forward, has been watching King James ever since he was the No. 1 selection in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. And, while LeBron is perched atop his own basketball stratosphere playing in Miami these days, Dunnigan is doing quite well for himself in a smaller fish bowl.
He blew out a pair of sneakers on a dunk over Curie’s 6-9 Cliff Alexander at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. He changed shoes at halftime of Joliet West’s 60-49 victory over Joliet Central on Jan. 4—the first pair was too tight.
And he poured in 25 of his game-high 32 points in the second half to help the Tigers pull away from the Steelmen in the field house at JT West. He is recognized today for his efforts as Joliet Patch’s Athlete of the Month for January.
Dunnigan averages about 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists for a JT West team that takes a record of 15-6 overall and 8-3 in the Southwest Suburban Blue into Friday’s game at Bolingbrook. Like his idol LeBron James, Dunnigan is on occasion asked to do it all for the Tigers.
He can play inside. He can play outside. He can play with his back to the basket. He can create his own shots off the dribble. He has emerged as a team leader, often outracing the competition in sprints during practice drills.
Then-to-Now: Journey Nearly Complete
Dunnigan has done a lot of growing up under the watchful eye of Joliet West coach Luke Yaklich and will play in the junior college ranks next season at Vincennes (Ind.). The Tigers' top scorer then hopes to move on to the D-I level.
“Morris (Dunnigan) has had high expectations ever since he was brought up to varsity his freshman year,” Yaklich said. “I’ll never forget the shot he made against Lockport in the sectional game to send us to the final. I think that play started his career.
“And, then obviously, this year he’s had a lot of big shots and big moments as a basketball player for us. And, you know, it’s a testament to his drive and his focus over the four years. Having the ACL injury as a sophomore, you don’t know where he could be right now.
“But, rather than living in hindsight, Morris chose to look forward and make sure he put his body in the best position possible to have a great senior year. He’s been rewarded with that. He’s so much stronger—quicker—and an overall better player than he was definitely last year and, then, his freshman and sophomore years.”
Dunnigan is the last holdover from the old combined JT sports program and JT team that played in the supersectional at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena at the end of the 2009-10 season. He has put on muscle—he weighs about 180 pounds—and learned to play nearly every position on the floor.
“I try to contribute to the team any way I can,” he said. “I’m a leader, but I don’t really talk that much. I’d rather play outside—on the wing—where I can get the ball and go to the rim, than posting up. But I will post up.”
He plans to continue to work on his ball-handling skills as he prepares for playing in the collegiate ranks. Before he departs Joliet West, he would like to make one more mark with the Tigers in the postseason. He is confident JT West can get the job done against the best-of-the-best in the Thornton Sectional.
“When the regionals and the sectionals get here, I think we’re going to make big noise,” he said. “Most of our losses have been by, what, one, two or three points. I’ve learned to value the ball. If you value the ball, nothing but good comes.”
The Tigers put the ball in Dunnigan’s hands early and often.
“He’s a tough matchup for a lot of people,” Yaklich said. “If they put somebody small and quick on him, we use him in the post. If he’s guarded by somebody that’s a little bit bigger, we like to bring Andre Hardy off the ball and set some ball-screens for him—let him spread the floor a little bit and create for other people.
“He’s a multi-faceted player. He can create his own shot. He’s strong—can play inside or out. He has great hands. The most important part is his development as a leader, a teammate and as player who has allowed himself to be coached this year 100 percent.”
Yaklich considers Dunnigan’s willingness to listen one of his greatest rewards.
“In the teaching and coaching profession, you want to see kids develop,” Yaklich said. “Each kid is going to develop in his own little way, but you want to feel that you brought them to a new place by the time they’re a senior.
“And, as a student, as an athlete and as a person, Morris has really advanced and worked to become better in all three of those areas. Our staff has done a great job. He’s done a great job. His parents are terrific people that have supported everything we’ve done throughout the four years.
“He’s going to have a really good, really successful college career.”
Previous Athlete of the Month Winners
SEPTEMBER: JT Central's Singletary is Patch Athlete of the Month
OCTOBER: JCA's Blotnik Charges to Head of the Pack
NOVEMBER: Ivlow Rushes To JCA Football Rescue