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Rudel: Dunn savors PSU’s last NCAA run

Commentary

March 16, 2011
By Neil Rudel, nrudel@altoonamirror.com

Jerry Dunn laughed at the memory. The Nittany Lions were flying into New Orleans for the 2001 NCAA Tournament when the pilot came on and announced, according to Dunn, "I've got good news and bad news. The good news is we're only about 25 miles outside the airport. The bad news is I don't know if we have enough fuel to get there."

Dunn was convinced the pilot was serious.

"When we landed, I went to the cockpit and told him never to do that again," he said Tuesday. "Even if it was true, I didn't want to know about it ... I don't know how many of our guys prayed much before that, but they were sure praying on that flight."

The Lions, at least on the inside, weren't fazed.

Once they got on the ground, as a No. 7 seed, they took out Providence and, two days later, decked No. 2 seeded North Carolina with a berth to the Sweet Sixteen on the line.

It's the last time Penn State made the Big Dance, and Dunn, now living in Charlotte, N.C., can still taste those sweet victories.

"It was a really, really special time in my life," he said. "I lived in State College longer than I lived any place [20 years]. I had some great memories and friends still there that I stay in touch with."

The Lions went 117-121 in Dunn's eight seasons, including two trips to the NCAAs (1996 and 2001) and two trips to the NIT Final Four. He reached 50 and 100 career victories faster than any coach in PSU history.

His tenure didn't end well, and the Lions went in a different direction in 2003, turning to Ed DeChellis. But Dunn isn't bitter.

In fact, the first thing he said when reached Tuesday was, "I'd like to congratulate the university, the administration, the athletic administration, the coaching staff and the players for being selected. I have a great deal of excitement for them."

Dunn spent the last seven years as an assistant under John Beilein, four at West Virginia and three at Michigan, before taking this season off.

He took over at PSU in September of 1995 for Bruce Parkhill, and the Lions burst to a 9-0 start. They finished second in the Big Ten and were essentially in the NCAA field all season. They were seeded fifth in the East, but drew defending national champion Arkansas, which slipped in as a No. 12 seed, and handled the Lions.

"We may have been a little too tight to make sure we were prepared," Dunn said.

In 2001, he benefited from the experience, saying, "I felt pretty confident because we had been through it before. Providence was huge and very athletic, but we felt like we had beaten some pretty good people during the course of the year. Beating Kentucky on the road had really built up our confidence."

Fueled by Joe Crispin, Gyasi Cline-Heard and Titus Ivory (Dunn's future son-in-law), the Lions upset North Carolina - which had Brendan Haywood, a longtime NBA center, and Julius Peppers, a longtime NFL standout - for the greatest win in PSU hoops history.

"Living in Charlotte now, I can't tell you how many people stop me and say they remember that game," Dunn said, adding with a laugh. "Mostly N.C. State and Wake [Forest] fans."

Dunn, 57, spent some time working and "hanging around" with the Charlotte Bobcats earlier this season when Larry Brown coached the team.

"We got to know each other when I was at Penn State and they [Brown's former team, the Philadelphia 76ers] had their preseason," Dunn said. "He's a great guy and a great teacher, and he's been good to me."

He hopes to return to coaching at some point in the future.

In the meantime, he admires the Lions - saying Talor Battle "is a prolific scorer and has a giant heart" - and believes they can beat Temple, their opening-round opponent.

"I saw Temple play once, and I think it's going to be a good game," he said. "It's certainly a winnable game."

There's some irony in that Temple is the No. 7 seed and San Diego State, if the Lions beat Temple, is the No. 2 seed.

Can they get it Dunn, er, done, again?

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

 
 
 

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