Delaware's Dunkley aims high British native wants to play in NBA

February 07, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

NEWARK, Del. -- Watching Spencer Dunkley play basketball, you'd think he's from a typical American high school background.

The 6-foot-11 University of Delaware senior is a fluid offensive player. He moves like a small forward, occasionally dribbling the ball up court.

Dunkley leads Delaware in scoring, with a 19.9 average. He is shooting 52.3 percent from the field and 78.4 percent from the foul line. His 13.8 rebounding average is third highest in the nation. And the agile Dunkley is an intimidator, averaging 3.4 blocked shots.

Dunkley, who was to lead the Blue Hens (14-4, 5-1 North Atlantic Conference) against host Drexel (12-5, 5-1) yesterday, did play one year of U.S. high school basketball, at Newark (Del.) High. But he grew up in Wolverhampton, England, where his main sports were soccer and track. His basketball experience in England consisted of a few years of twice-weekly practices.

Now, Dunkley hopes to be an NBA draft choice. And he is setting his sights high.

"I think I'll be able to play right away," said the tallest Blue Hen ever. "My development might be slow, like it's been in college, but by the end of my career I want to be an all-star."

Scouts are skeptical about Dunkley moving directly into the NBA.

Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting, said Dunkley is one of the "top 10 centers" in the nation. But Blake adds that this year's draft is subpar.

"[Dunkley] is a draft choice," Blake said. "He has some skills, but he's a long way from being an NBA player. He's big and he can run, [but] he's playing in a league with no centers."

After seeing Dunkley play against Hartford's 6-11 Vin Baker, a certain first-round draft choice, last Sunday at Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center, Washington Bullets general manager John Nash was cautiously optimistic.

"I could see us taking him on the second round, then have him go play in Europe for a year or two," Nash said. "He has the ability to put the ball on the floor, but he doesn't have many offensive moves inside. He had a bad first half [0-for-8 from the field], but he came up big at crunch time."

In Sunday's game, Delaware trailed until 7:07 remained, Dunkley finished with 19 points (13 of 15 free throws) and 21 rebounds as the Hens won, 71-67.

Rudy Keeling, whose University of Maine team also plays in the NAC, thinks Dunkley has a chance some day to be an NBA player.

"He hasn't played a whole lot of basketball," Keeling said, "[but] he's markedly better this year than he was last year. If he continues to improve, he has a heckuva shot. He's making jump shots from the perimeter.

"He's got to get stronger. He's kind of a gentle giant. He's got to be a little meaner."

Newark High coach Jim Doody said former Temple star Terence Stansbury, who played at Newark, saw Dunkley earlier this season when he returned from France, where he is playing pro hoops.

Said Doody, a Marple-Newtown High graduate: "Terry said [Dunkley] can play in Europe right now. He can run and catch the ball, and he knows how to block shots."

Lack of experience limits Dunkley at both ends of the court. To succeed in the NBA, he'll have to develop more offensive moves. On defense, he is effective guarding his man, but has to learn to help out better.

Dunkley's teammates have helped polish his skills. During spring break of their freshman year, Anthony Wright took Dunkley to the playgrounds in his hometown of Asbury Park, N.J., for an advanced course in Hoops Education. If Dunkley could survive the Asbury Park pickup games, Wright knew there was pro potential.

"It's a different type of ball there," said Wright, a 6-6 senior. "They play real hard and there's a lot of smaller guys who go real hard at you.

"[Dunkley] wasn't used to dunking the ball. He didn't play physical. When we first we came back from the park, we both had blood on our shirts. That's how the game is played. He started getting tough."

Delaware coach Steve Steinwedel said Dunkley has improved "by leaps and bounds. We knew he had the desire to be a good player. He's done everything we've asked him to do.

"He's always been athletic. He excelled at soccer. But his lower body was real weak. He's worked on improving his leg strength. When he came here, he was just under 200 pounds. Now he's 240."

Dunkley's interest in basketball intensified after he saw a tape of an NBA playoff featuring Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. But Dunkley didn't have any U.S. connections until an American friend of Doody's walked into the gym in England where Dunkley was practicing. As soon as Doody found a British family for Dunkley to live with, Newark High had itself a 6-11 center.

Dunkley, who only has been back to England twice since arriving in Delaware admits the adjustment to a strange land wasn't easy.

"My first year, it was horrible," the soft-spoken Dunkley said. "I was really homesick. I wrote a letter every day. I missed the food, my family and my friends. But I decided it would be good to fulfill a goal. If I was home, I'd probably have been hanging out in the pubs."

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