Gwynedd Mercy senior Rich Dunham (above) is entering the final semester of a standout career. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Gwynedd Mercy is in a stage of transition, a movement from old to new. In the middle of it, serving as a pivot point of sorts, is Rich Dunham. And with one semester left in a college basketball career that’s seen the former Pioneer Athletic Conference standout turn into one of the best small-college guards around, Dunham’s in charge of leading the Griffins as they begin their conference championship defense.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t even think I’d be in this spot, to be honest,” the Griffins’ senior said. “I had to work and work and work. It wasn’t just (given), I had to go get it.”
At Pope John Paul II, Dunham was a first-team PAC selection as a senior, helping PJP into the PAC-10 and District 1 3A playoffs, but never got the opportunity to play for league or district championships.
It’s been quite a different story for the 6-foot-1, 160-pound guard during his college years.
As a freshman, Dunham played in 28 games with one start in a Gwynedd uniform, averaging 6.7 ppg and 2.7 rpg while shooting 24-of-62 (38.7%) from 3-point range. While those numbers weren’t anything ground-breaking, Dunham’s steady play off the bench for a 21-win Griffins squad earned him CSAC Rookie of the Year honors.
“I won Rookie of the Year freshman year, but I still wasn’t sure [how good I could be],” Dunham said. “I wasn’t sure, I was still young.”
Over the past three seasons, he’s shown everybody. Dunham averaged 12.7 ppg as a sophomore and then 16.9 ppg as a junior; through the first dozen games of his senior season, he’s averaging 16.1 ppg after dropping 22 points in a win against Penn State-Abington on Friday night.
That puts him at 1,179 career points, already 11th on the Gwynedd scoring list and only 226 points out of second; Chris DelBrocco’s 1,405 from 2003-07 trail only Badou Gaye’s school-record 2,029 points, a number that will be a little too tough to catch. Dunham’s also currently atop the school’s list in 3-point percentage (.412) and foul-shooting percentage (.805), fifth in assists (313), fourth in assists per game (3.3), second in steals (173, only three off the leader), and will also finish in the top five of 3-pointers made and top-15 in rebounding.
When presented with all of those numbers, Dunham was a little stunned.
“I didn’t know that, but it’s a great feeling,” he said. “I worked hard for this.”
Not bad for a kid who Gwynedd coach John Baron didn’t see play until January of Dunham’s senior year at PJP.
“You (see enough kids to recruit) in the summer that you start concentrating on finding if they are good enough. With him, I missed him in the summer somewhere,” Baron said. But the 18th-year head coach, who lives near Pioneer Athletic Conference territory up Route 422, caught word of the talented scoring guard early in the 2015-16 season, and eventually got in on Dunham’s recruitment.
“Albright was recruiting him and had already had him on campus, and that was the only one I had to beat,” Baron said.
With help from a mutual friend who was able to vouch for Baron’s trustworthiness and coaching abilities, Dunham chose Gwynedd, and hasn’t looked back.
“I got more of a bond, it felt like home, (the players) made me feel like I was a little brother to them,” he said. “I just felt the family vibe with them.”
Dunham (above, against PSU-Abington) is averaging 16.1 ppg and 3.5 rpg as a senior, shooting 43.9% from the 3-point line and 87.7% from the foul stripe. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Dunham’s taken that feeling and paid it back, with interest. Baron said that Dunham was a “good recruiter,” helping attract freshmen and transfers alike, and is a big reason why a team with a mix of ages and experience has been able to gel early in the season.
“The best part about him is he’s friends with all the ages: the freshmen, the sophomores, the seniors,” Baron said. “He does a good job off the court of making everyone feel that this is the best choice they made.”
Last year, Dunham was the leading scorer on a Griffins squad that won 20 games and the inaugural Atlantic East conference championship. But although he scored the most points, he didn’t need to be the leader, with seniors and program stalwarts like Courtney Cubbage (16.4 ppg/5.2 rpg), Clayton Wolfe (13.3 ppg/6.9 rpg) and Matt Sommers (6.5 ppg) also in the starting lineup.
Behind that senior group, Gwynedd Mercy went 9-3 in AEast play, capturing the seven-team league’s crown in its first year since Gwynedd, Neumann, Cabrini, and others split away from the CSAC and a couple other leagues to form the new conference.
Due to the size of the league, conference play has yet to start this season; Gwynedd’s 8-4 record was all acquired out-of-conference, with their first league game coming Jan. 11 at Marywood. Behind Dunham and fellow senior Jeff Seigafuse (11.5 ppg/3.5 rpg) are Bloomsburg transfer Austin Harriott (11.0 ppg/3.5 rpg), freshman Nathaniel Walker (6.3 ppg) and a few other newcomers who are adjusting to playing for a conference title right away.
A sign that this group is ready to defend its championship is the fact that Gwynedd Mercy is 6-0 in true road games after beating PSU-Abington; they’ve also won at Alvernia, Lebanon Valley, Goucher, Gallaudet and York (N.Y.).
“I think if you can win on the road, I think that you’re really ready to play at the end,” Baron said. “We put a lot of emphasis on the road wins on our goals, we say we want to be above-average on the road. And at 6-0, that’s a little above average.”
After going without that coveted championship during high school, Dunham has a chance to lead his team to his second in two years, bringing Gwynedd their first back-to-back titles since 2003 and ‘04. After that, he hopes to embark upon a professional career, though he’ll have a degree in criminal justice to fall back upon either way. No matter what, if he caps his career with another NCAA Tournament appearance, with his presence on the program leaders, Dunham will have his claim as one of the best to ever wear the Gwynedd uniform.
“I was hoping to get a championship, which we did,” he said. “And I’ve been in the championship, a couple of times, twice. Lost the first one and lost in the semis the second year, and finally got one the third year. So I’m hoping, I’m hoping to go back this year, and go back-to-back.”