Saint Peter's men's basketball coach John Dunne is certainly one of my favorite conference program directors.
OK, in the interest of being politcally correct, your hoopscribe has 10 favorite men's coaches and 10 favorite women's coaches.
But, sometimes, a few sneak a nose in front in the estimation of your humble scribe, and so it is with Dunne, who I have probably had a knowledge of longer than any conference coach.
My first sighting of the Peacocks' coach came in the late 1980s when he was still a high school player at fabled Archbishop Molloy High School, starting in the backcourt alongside Kenny Anderson, who would go on to a spectacular career at Georgia Tech and, then, with several NBA teams.
That team was loaded with future college talent (among them was Robert Werdann, a 6-11 center who played at St. John's, had a few years in the NBA and is not an assistant coach with the New Orleans Hornets).
Dunne was the prototypical "good teammate" more than willing to defer while doing the dirty work of playing defense, hustling and making good passes that often gets overlooks.
And, so it has been for much of Dunne's professional coaching career, one in which he never had the proverbial silver spoon. Dunne has worked his way up through the ranks as much as anyone.
After graduating from Ithaca College he began his coaching career at Wilkes University a Division III program in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
From there he went to Western Michigan as an assistant, back to Wilkes and then to Division II Adelphi, where he worked under current Orlando Magic assistant coach Steve Clifford.
From there he made his first move to Division I as an assistant at Manhattan and, then, moved to Siena under Paul Hewitt and, then, Louis Orr. When Orr moved on to Seton Hall, Dunne went with him. When Orr was fired after five seasons at Seton Hall, Dunne was fortunate enough to be offered his first position as a head coach, at Saint Peter's.
Fortunate? Only if you consider taking over a program that just graduated its all-time best player, guard Keydren Clark, and was otherwise lacking in talent. Dunne walked into a decimated program that could only manage 11 total victories in his first two seasons.
But, the subsequent three years, populated with his recruits, have produced 47 wins, including 20 this past season, the program's first 20-win season since 1990-91.
It also produced Saint Peter's first trip to the NCAA tournament sinc 1995.
The storybook season earned Dunne some interest elsewhere, but he has ultimately opted to remain at Saint Peter's and, last week, the school announced a contract extention for him through the 2015-16 season.
Before the extention, Dunne was not only the lowest-paid coach in the MAAC, but one of the lowest of any Division I program. Although no financial details were released in the new deal, the likelihood is that Dunne was rewarded to the extent that he is now at least in the middle of the pack in salary terms, of conference coaches.
The 41-year old Dunne, for sure, has paid his dues in moving up the ranks in college coaching. And, he has done so with unrivaled class.
At Saint Peter's, Dunne hardly has the best resources to attract players to his programs. Besides being relatively underfunded, the school's gym barely rivals those of many high schools. The school's location is far from the suburban environment several other MAAC schools can offer.
And, during his team's recent run to the MAAC tournament's championship this past March Dunne was asked about the difficulty of being a head coach considering the seemingly obvious handicaps at his school, about having what appears to be the toughest job in the MAAC.
"I don't buy into that `toughest job' thing," said Dunne. "At the end of the day sometimes you ... it's the people within the building, not the building that make the difference. I care about these guys. I'd go to war for these guys. We might have our differences but we stick together. These guys have always persevered and it just comes down to people. You don't have to have the nicest house on the block. I think our guys like Saint Peter's. I think we have great people."
Great people, indeed, and Dunne can certainly include himself in that crowd.
He is the epitome of class, and anyone who been around long enough to follow his career or, even, just long enough to have heard his comments about his school, can attest to that.