D’Marco Dunn knew he always had it in him; it just took a 2,000-mile move from Marana to Fayetteville, N.C. to find it.
“The talent was always there. It just needed structure,” Dunn, a Class of 2021 6-foot-4 guard, said in a phone interview today.
Fate and his mom Veronica, now employed at Fort Bragg, took him from this area last August when he was offered a scholarship only by UTEP to now having more than 20 from the likes of North Carolina, Clemson, Louisville, Wake Forest, Maryland, Texas, and most recently, Arizona,
The person responsible for helping to elevate Dunn from a relative unknown prospect to one of the best nationally in the Class of 2021 in a span of about six months was his new coach at Fayetteville — George Stackhouse at Westover High School.
“He saw the skill … but he really gave me the structure and I did something with it,” Dunn said. “I improved my jump shot and I added some pounds. I just got better honestly. He just gave me the structure. It just blew up and everything took care of itself.”
When Dunn left Marana High School after his sophomore year, he was about 6-foot-3 and 160 pounds. He completed his junior year with Westover at 6-4 and 175, becoming a high-profile talent who averaged 20.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.7 steals a game. He shot an unreal 54 percent from the field, including 45 percent from 3-point range. He is also explosive to the basket, connecting on 61 percent of his shots within the arc.
Dunn went from inexplicably not being listed by MaxPreps last season on a Marana team that was 14-15 to leading Westover to a 30-0 season, culminating with a state championship.
Not many knew of him in Tucson when he left here 10 months ago aside from his Marana buddies and AAU coaches with PowerHouse Hoops. Now, Sean Miller is calling him as well as assistant Danny Peters. Arizona legend Jason Terry has contacted him a couple of times since his hire as an assistant last week.
Stackhouse told the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer that Dunn’s newfound popularity among Division I coaches comes from being a “humble kid” who is academically strong with a solid character.
“He’s (also) really skilled,” Stackhouse said. “He checks a lot of boxes.”
Dunn’s conviction that he could be this good is almost as awe-inspiring as how far he has come.
Living in the heart of the ACC with North Carolina and Duke less than 100 miles from Fayetteville, Dunn has also maneuvered himself to a high level of success despite facing tougher competition in an area where basketball is king similar to what football is in Texas.
“This is what I set out for at the beginning of my high school career, it’s something I really wanted ” he said. “I feel what’s happening is just a result of all my hard work paying off finally.
“Being over here put me on a bigger stage to really platform my skills. When the opportunity presented itself, I just kind of took it.”
Blessed to receive an offer from the University of Arizona ‼️ pic.twitter.com/la5sTbTMCs
Coming from a military family, Dunn is also no stranger to significant changes.
By the time he entered the first grade at Marana in 2010-11, Dunn already went from being born in Sierra Vista to also living in Texas and Tennessee. He grew up mostly in this area, spending the last decade here.
His father Greg and older sister Kaylin remain in Tucson. Dunn said he hoped to visit here in July on his way to play AAU basketball games but the COVID-19 pandemic may push that activity back to late summer or early fall. He mentioned he will most likely return to visit Arizona’s campus before making his college choice in November ahead of his senior season.
Dunn’s obscure hoops identity locally before he moved to North Carolina did not provide him an opportunity to communicate with Miller or the Arizona assistant coaches, especially at the level where it is now. Understandably, he said that he “never had a connection to Arizona” while living here.
“I love their program and everything,” he continued. “It’s all about the best fit for me, the best place — if that’s Arizona, I don’t know. I’ll talk to them, build a relationship and see it if it is. I’ll see where it takes me.”
Miller and his staff are no longer a car drive away from seeing Dunn play but coaches like North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Wake Forest’s Steve Forbes now have that luxury.
Spending some of my childhood in Maryland, I learned that ACC basketball had the most entertainment value in that area, including the NBA. The annual ACC tournament was almost as enticing as the NCAA tournament.
Dunn is exposed to that now.
D’Marco Dunn with the steal and thunderous SLAM😳
“Definitely in this location it makes basketball a lot more intense, a lot more fun,” he said. “Being in ACC country makes it a little more interesting, competitive, all that stuff. Basketball is a lot more prestigious over here.
“It is interesting, but I don’t try to get caught up too much into the hype. I just want to play basketball, but I do know the league and the schools in the ACC and what they mean to college basketball.”
All these Division I coaches are now inundating Dunn with phone calls and messages whereas at this time last year, hardly anybody knew about him other than UTEP coach Rodney Terry.
The one constant in Dunn’s life from that period in his life to now has been his mom. Stackhouse has coached him up. Dunn has spent hours upon hours in the gym daily to hone his game. He has worked on becoming more of a physical specimen and it shows.
But he thanks his mom the most for his unbelievable emergence.
“She always makes me stay focused,” Dunn said. “I left all my friends in Marana and everybody back in Tucson, but she has always said, ‘Stay focused and good opportunities will come your way.’
“We’re really religious I would say, so we believe we can achieve. She’s the main reason I’m staying focused.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.