When played the right way, basketball is a beautiful game that teaches lifelong values of teamwork, accountability, responsibility, communication and sportsmanship.
For two former CHSAA basketball players, ensuring the next crop of student-athletes learns the right way to play has become their mission.
Dillon Burns, a 2012 graduate of Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, and Devin Dunn, a 2012 graduate of Msgr. Farrell H.S., Staten Island, teamed up to form D&D Player Development, a local hoops platform that seeks to help basketball players improve their game and reach their full potential.
Both from Staten Island originally, Burns and Dunn grew up playing basketball with and against each other. Burns played Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) hoops at St. Joseph-St. Thomas Parish, while Dunn played CYO at St. Charles.
Burns joined the Clippers as a point guard in 2008. During his sophomore year, his team won the CHSAA junior varsity city championship. He then continued his player career in college at LIU Post, Brookville, L.I. Dunn starred as a small forward for the Msgr. Farrell squad before moving on to Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
After he graduated college, Burns played semi-pro basketball in Ireland for two seasons. He returned in 2017 and immediately began receiving calls about doing small-group lessons.
Looking for assistance, Burns reached out to his former teammate Dunn, who he knew had the passion and drive to be his co-instructor. The momentum kept building, and soon D&D Player Development was born.
“As I was playing, I never really thought of being a coach,” said Dunn, an FDNY firefighter in Prospect Heights who is a varsity assistant coach at Msgr. Farrell. “Looking back on it, my coaching comes from all the great coaches that coached me.”
Burns and Dunn cater to any player willing to put the time and work in to get better. They host clinics for grade schoolers, mini-camps for high schoolers and routine workouts with college players.
“On Staten Island, we started seeing that there’s a big desire for players who want to get better and grow as players,” said Burns, the head coach of Xaverian’s freshmen team who also works in the school’s advancement and alumni department.
“There’s a lot of player development programs out there,” Dunn said. “I think the biggest thing with it is teaching these kids the right way to play basketball and the right way to work hard to achieve a goal they set for themselves.”
In developing young players, Burns and Dunn focus on creating game-like situations so that when their players are actually in a game, they are already familiar with what they need to do to make plays. The game becomes second nature to them at that point, which allows them to thrive in the clutch.
“A lot of players — especially on Staten Island and in the New York City area — are good players, but they just don’t have the IQ,” Burns said. “We figure that if we grow a development system where we help young players learn the game and develop their skills, we give them a better chance to grow and use their tools to continue their education and build their friendships.”
Given their competitive playing days in the CHSAA and college, Burns and Dunn have been well prepared to be coaches and teachers of the game. They recognize that basketball is not just about a player’s physical gifts, but rather it’s also about how the player can use those gifts in a smart and efficient manner.
Part of their mission is to also stress the importance of being prepared when your number is called. Whether a player is one of the five starters or a reserve, he or she always has to be ready when an opportunity comes knocking.
“The game of basketball has taught me so much,” Burns said. “I’ve made so many best friends, and it’s also given me the opportunity to further my education and be in a position to help young kids do the same thing. You can’t put a price on that.”
“Basketball is the epitome of a team sport in that it teaches you life lessons,” Dunn said. “It’s not just about you. It’s about the team and how you’re willing to sacrifice and how you’re willing to step up.”
It’s been basketball that’s reunited these former teammates into doing great work in the community. It’s also basketball that will help shape the next generation of hoops stars, whether that involves playing in high school, in college or maybe even in the pros someday.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.