Phoenix Suns snag Virginia defensive standout Dunn, former Desert Vista center Ighodaro in NBA Draft

Ryan Dunn, former Virginia forward, shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Two years ago, Ryan Dunn departed Perkiomen School (Pennsburg, Pennsylvania) for the University of Virginia to join the Cavaliers as a walk-on. The three-star recruit stepped on the court at John Paul Jones Arena with no sense of security but determined to embrace coach Tony Bennett’s pack line defense style of play, he reminded people why offense isn’t the only part of basketball.

In his second season at Virginia, the 6-foot-8 forward utilized his 7-foot-1 wingspan to haunt opposing offenses. He ranked 16th nationally and first in the ACC in blocked shots per game and earned a 2024 ACC All-Defensive team nod.

“Once I got to UVA and had my growth spurt, I think I got some God-given talents, and coach Bennett drew out that defensive mindset in me,” Dunn said.

That mindset is what prompted the Phoenix Suns to secure Dunn in the first round of Wednesday’s NBA Draft. They stayed local for the second round Thursday, selecting Marquette big man and Desert Vista graduate Oso Ighodaro after acquiring the 40th pick from the New York Knicks.

Wednesday capped quite the journey for Dunn. After two years on the suburban campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, he returned to his hometown of Freeport, New York, as the “best all-around defender in the draft,” according to ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas.

Dunn rose out of his seat at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced his name, hugged his family, walked down the steps en route to the main stage, put on a Denver Nuggets snapback and proceeded to shake Silver’s hand.

The Phoenix Suns traded for the 40th pick Thursday in the NBA Draft and selected Marquette’s Oso Ighodaro, who attended Desert Vista High School. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics)

The Phoenix Suns traded for the 40th pick Thursday in the NBA Draft and selected Marquette’s Oso Ighodaro, who attended Desert Vista High School. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics)

But the kid from the flatlands of Long Island wasn’t embarking on a new journey in the Mile High city; instead, he was on his way to the Valley to join Devin Booker and the Suns, who traded the No. 22 overall pick in the NBA Draft to the Denver Nuggets. The Suns received the No. 28 and No. 56 picks and two future second-round picks.

“We came into the draft with a couple of objectives,” said Suns general manager James Jones. “We wanted to get more athletic. Defensively, on the perimeter, we wanted to add some size and some youth. I thought we were able to do two things tonight: get the player that we wanted moving back and pick up other assets and capital for the future to continue to allow us to have more resources to build the team for the long term.”

Virginia assistant coach Orlando Vandross’ overwhelming elation was evident in his voice as he reflected on hearing Dunn’s name announced. Comparing the moment to a “parent watching a child,” he admires Dunn’s journey, one marked by persistence and selflessness.

“I think for him to have any chance to be successful, he was willing to do whatever the price is going to take,” Vandross told Cronkite News. “If that means he had to be a defensive stopper, he was willing to do that. He was so unselfish.

“From day one, he just worked. He is a tireless worker and he just believed that at some point he was going to get an opportunity. We asked him to do some things, especially defensively early, and he just would give us multiple efforts and when you get guys like that, you just have to find minutes for them early. By the time the second year came around, at least he had a year … to kind of propel him a little bit more to have a mindset that he could guard a lot of people. It’s something he committed to.”

Phoenix ranked fifth in defensive rating among the eight Western Conference teams entering the playoffs, according to the NBA. In a first-round sweep to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team posted the worst defensive rating in the playoffs and surrendered the most points off turnovers.

The Suns’ defensive struggles were rooted in trading 2022 Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Mikal Bridges to the Brooklyn Nets for offensive juggernaut Kevin Durant last year. Jones & Co. never found a replacement for Bridges, but their newest member is committed to excelling on defense.

“The kid is a tireless worker. His desire is to become an elite defender in this league first and foremost, and that’s something that I think we can really benefit from,” Jones said.

While versatile on defense, Dunn lacks the offensive prowess that has commanded the league in recent years. He shot 23.5% from three and 52.5% from the free throw line during his collegiate career.

Ryan Dunn takes in the atmosphere at the Barclays Center as his name is announced as the 28th overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Ryan Dunn takes in the atmosphere at the Barclays Center as his name is announced as the 28th overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

While new coach Mike Budenholzer won’t depend on Dunn to carry the offensive burden with Booker, Bradley Beal, and Kevin Durant at his disposal, the rookie is motivated to develop his marksmanship.

“I think I can,” Dunn said about improving his 3-point shot. “It’s just getting a lot of reps in practice … in Phoenix, just be in the gym a lot.”

Jones has faith and confidence that Dunn will develop as a shooter in the NBA.

“He’s improving, and what he was asked to do at Virginia was defend, and he relied on his athleticism,” Jones said. “The shooting isn’t where he wanted it to be or where we think it will be in a few years, but he’s an impactful player, and great players find a way to impact the game, not just with the offensive box score.”

As he swaps Cavaliers orange for Suns orange at new home in Phoenix, Dunn’s mindset aligns with the team’s ambitious vision to raise a banner in Footprint Center.

“I’m excited. Great program,” Dunn said. “They want to win a championship and they have got great players to do it. I’m going to try to get down there, go to work and see what I’ve got to get there.”

To Vandross, Virginia’s loss is the Suns’ gain.

“We are going to miss him in several regards,” Vandross said. “He is a tremendous teammate, he was one of our best recruiters. I think they are getting a great kid. I think he is going to give them everything he’s got. He’s going to work, he’s a gym rat. They (the Suns) are going to get a guy who is going to be a worker, day one guy.”

Sports Digital Reporter, Phoenix

Joshua Heron expects to graduate in August 2024 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Heron served as a sports reporter for The Hilltop, Howard University News Service, and social-impact brand FISLL as an undergrad at Howard University. He also worked as a freelance reporter for Capital News. His interview series, “Wagwan In Life,” hosts people across multiple professions. Heron produced “Championship Culture,” a documentary highlighting the Howard women’s basketball team. He was a 2023 National Geographic HBCU Media Scholar and former My Brother’s Keeper Fellow.