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Dominic Dunn's master plan has Widener MBB rolling early

12/08/2023, 10:30am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Dom Dunn had a plan, and he was determined to make it happen.

The South Jersey native and Widener grad student debated coming back for his sixth year of college hoops, the COVID year and an injury waiver allowing him to extend his NCAA eligibility longer than most. The 23-year-old had been to three NCAA Tournaments, all on the backs of conference titles — two with Susquehanna, one with Widener. 

Dominic Dunn (above) is in his second year of graduate school at Widener. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

That wasn’t the bar for success for him anymore, though, and he wanted to do something about it. Widener was already close, coming off a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Tufts, with most of their rotation coming back. Dunn wanted to get them over the top. 

“I’ve been fortunate enough to win a lot in college,” he said, “but I’ve never got over the hump — Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4. But you need six or seven real dudes to do that.”

Dunn’s plan, so far, seems to be working out. With the mix of returning players the Pride already had in the fold and some key reinforcements — led by a pair of players Dunn himself recruited to Chester — they’re off to an impressive start to the season, with bigger plans ahead. 

It all started with one connection that went back nearly a decade. 

Dunn first met Anthony DiCaro in middle school, the two playing on the South Jersey Mambas together when Dunn was in seventh and eighth grade, DiCaro a year behind him. They quickly became friends, and when Dunn was a freshman at Camden Catholic (2014-15) he did his best to get DiCaro to join him a year later. 

At the last minute DiCaro decided to stay in the public school system, going to Cherokee, the two doing battle in South Jersey for three years to follow and maintaining their friendship off the court the whole time. Dunn went to Susquehanna to begin his college career, DiCaro to TCNJ a year later. 

They both put together strong collegiate careers. Dunn, a versatile 6-foot-5 wing, helped Susquehanna to two conference championships, averaging double digits in all three seasons he played, including 14.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a senior in 2021-22. DiCaro, a 6-2 guard whose father Tony DiCaro played at St. Joe’s, started his last two seasons at TCNJ, averaging 13.7 points and 4.2 assists in those years (10.6 ppg, 3.2 apg career).

Last year, after Dunn announced he was leaving Susquehanna for a grad transfer opportunity with two years to play, DiCaro tried to pitch him on joining up at TCNJ, a strong NJAC squad which last made the NCAA Tournament in 2020. But it wasn’t quite the right situation, Dunn said, and he found himself plenty happy playing for Chris Carideo at Widener.

The whole 2022-23 season, knowing that DiCaro would have a graduate year of his own to take, Dunn made sure to stay in his buddy’s ear about keeping a potential reunion open; he did the same with one of his former Susquehanna teammates, Howie Rankine Jr.

Anthony DiCaro (above) came to Widener after four years at TCNJ. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“I was texting them all throughout their season, like ‘Hey, good game, and your jersey’s waiting for you here if you want it,’” said Dunn, who will eventually pursue a career as a college coach. “In a respectful way, obviously, but yeah.”

Within a month after the 2022-23 season ended, DiCaro visited Widener, and Carideo didn’t have to do much to land his commitment shortly thereafter. By the end of the spring former Drew wing Mike Kane had joined on, a fourth grad student on the roster along with Dunn, DiCaro and Steven Matlack, the only one of the group to do all five years at Widener. 

Rankine was the last piece of the puzzle. The Carlisle native improved by leaps and bounds in his collegiate years, averaging 17.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 3.0 apg his last year at Susquehanna. He had overtures from a number of collegiate programs, taking into the summer to make his decision. 

Dunn invited him down to Chester to partake in some of the open runs he’d been having with his Widener teammates and some other college players brought down by his younger brother, Lucas Dunn, who plays for Division-II Chestnut Hill College. 

“We had one day where it was Kevin, Mike, Anthony, myself, Howie, and it was the first week of July and we played and won eight straight games,” Dunn said. “And Howie afterwards was like ‘Yeah, I have to play with you guys.’”

“It was special,” DiCaro said. “I was like, wow, we’re all about to be on the same college team for a whole season.”

Watching Widener dismantle a quality Arcadia side Sunday to move to 7-1 on the season, it’s easy to see Dunn’s plan coming to fruition. The Pride go 10-11 deep in their main rotation, the five grad students plus seniors Kevin Schenk (11.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Luke Mazur (8.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and fourth-year junior Matt Daulerio (5.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg) making up the top eight. 

Howie Rankine Jr. (above) has joined his former Susquehanna teammate Dunn at Widener. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The five graduate students and three fourth-year players give Carideo his most experienced rotation ever in his 18th season at Widener, and he’s not complaining.

“I’m enjoying it more than I thought I could ever enjoy it,” Carideo said. “I come in, there’s already guys in the gym, they’re bringing the young guys down to the gym, too. I don’t have to coach effort, I don’t have to coach being locked in on the scouting report. I haven’t seen a particular game where the moment’s too big for them, yet … It’s been fun, honestly, they’re a mature group.”

Dunn is the team’s leading scorer (14.8 ppg) and rebounder (8.0 rpg), with a 3.1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Schenk (11.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Rankine (9.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Kane (8.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg) are second, third and fourth, respectively, none playing more than 25 minutes per game. It’s a group with not just depth and talent but good size — Daulerio is 6-8, Schenk 6-6, Matlack 6-5 and Kane 6-4. 

DiCaro (7.3 ppg) is seventh on the team in scoring, though a 17-point outburst against Arcadia was a sign he’s still plenty capable of doing so when needed. 

“We have nine guys who could score 25 points in a game pretty easily or have done it before,” Dunn said. 

If that’s an exaggeration, it’s not one by much. Five different players have led them in scoring through their first eight games.

As for Dunn and DiCaro, the two are enjoying being teammates for the first time in nine years, and each agreed it was worth the wait. Both spoke of the maturity they’ve seen each other develop since they first met, how much they’re enjoying being roommates (along with Schenk, Rankine and Matlack), not to mention watching each other succeed on the court.

“We still have great chemistry,” Dunn said. “I always know where he is, and he always knows, I think, where I am. We’re now just older, so we’ve matured a lot and developed tendencies. ... It’s been a lot of fun so far, I can say that.”

It’s a long time until March, to know whether Dunn’s plan was ultimately successful. The Pride already have some signs they’re close; they lost to No. 8 Hampden-Sydney by nine in November and have beaten numerous quality opponents by 15 or more. The next major test comes Saturday at No. 15 Swarthmore, though the Pride have beaten the Garnet each of the last two seasons. 

That’s before the 14-game MAC Commonwealth slate begins, with the regular season wrapping up Feb. 17 at Albright. After that is what they’re all playing for.

“I believe we have the pieces,” Carideo said. “Do they know that? Yeah, I think they do. And I think we have to do my best with my coaches to keep them in the moment.”

“All of us are only back here to win, it’s definitely like win or bust, for sure,” said DiCaro, who’s planning on a career as a middle school teacher. “And we’re still taking it game by game, every game’s going to be a challenge ... but our goal isn’t just to win the conference and then (say) ‘Alright, we’ll see how the tournament goes.’ Our goal isn’t to win one tournament game, we want to go as far as we can.”

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