A player that averages over 22 points and 5 rebounds a night in high school is likely to get noticed.
But despite being named as a top 10 preseason player in the 10th Region, Leevi Dunaway feels he is still being overlooked
After a strong junior season for the Mason County boys’ basketball team last winter, Dunaway is trying to improve his game even more to prove to people he belongs in the group of elite players in the area.
“I read on it a little bit. Most of the time it’s just motivation. I thought last year I had a pretty good season, but people tend to overlook me, so that’s on them,” said Dunaway. “I’m going to come out this year and with it being my last year, I’m coming for everything. I want to get back to Rupp and prove to people that I can play.”
In The Cats’ Pause preseason rankings, Dunaway was ranked as the second-best player in the 10th Region, behind Pendleton County’s Dontaie Allen, who averaged 29.1 points and 12.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore, but in the BluegrassPreps.com 10th Region overview, Dunaway was ranked as the fifth-best player in the region, behind Allen, Eric Johnson of Paris, Will Philpot of George Rogers Clark and Brennan Canada of George Rogers Clark.
“It gives me more drive. I’m a competitive player. I hate to lose. I definitely love to prove people wrong,” said Dunaway. “For them to say that about me, it just puts a little bit of fire underneath it.”
Dunaway’s ability to get to the basket helped him averaged 22.1 points over 30 games last season. The 6-foot-1 guard shot 48 percent from the field and 72 percent from the free throw line. The numbers were an improvement from 4.2 points and 2.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
“I’ve been out here all summer on the gun working on my 3-point shot, trying to improve my free throw percentage. With me attacking the basket the way I do, I plan to shoot a lot of free throws and if I want to go play in college I’d like to be in the 80s range and higher if I can,” said Dunaway.
“For me to be able to hit one or two threes a night is big. That’s six more points for us,” added Dunaway. “Basically just be able to knock down open shots. That’s a big thing. It’s always good to put the ball in the basket.”
The 3-point shooting was a weakness for Dunaway last season, as he connected on under 23 percent of shots he took beyond the arc, which is why it has been a major focus during the offseason.
“I think Leevi – not that he didn’t shoot the ball OK last year – he just got most of his points off drives. He was an exceptional driver of the basketball for this level,” said Mason County coach James "Buddy" Biggs. “To put that last piece of the puzzle together – if he can become just as adept at 3-point shooting as he is driving the ball – he’s really, really going to be an even more dangerous weapon for us this year.”
In addition to the role Dunaway has leading the offense, he and his coach are hoping for an improvement on the defensive end as well. The Royals gave up over 71 points per game last season.
“We’ve been trying to talk a lot more on defense and I think that a big part of our defense is talking, switching screens, just getting up in our man and trying to force turnovers,” said Dunaway. “Defense wins championships, so for us to win the 10th Region this year we’re going to have to play a lot of defense.”
While Dunaway has been a statistical leader for the Royals, the third-year Mason County coach is hoping he emerges as a player the rest of the team can look to for guidance.
“Last year I think sometimes we kind of – we only had one senior last year. I think at times no one really knew who to turn to in moments of crises. This year we’ve got to be clear on who’s our leader and who’s going to take that leadership role, both on and off the court,” said Biggs. “I think we need that from him as well.”
Dunaway has been to Lindenwood University, University of Pikeville and Georgetown College for visits, and says he’s also received mail from Hanover College. He’s hoping another big year will help catch the interest of college coaches, and his current coach thinks that’ll happen.
“He has a whole season left of high school ball which is a good thing. I think if he has the kind of season I think he’s hoping for and we’re hoping for for him, I think that’s a given that he’ll play somewhere next year,” said Biggs. “He certainly has that ability level.”
The Royals are scheduled to begin the season at home against St. Patrick on Nov. 28.