Former Lancaster Bible College men’s basketball star CJ Dunston (’16) wanted a burger before he recently left Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for work overseas. It couldn’t be any burger however, it was a specific request for a burger he won’t be able to have for close to ten months.
So despite having plenty of dining options in the Lancaster area, there was only one place to go, and it was to the mall, as one of Dunston’s final acts before heading to Sweden to play in the country’s top professional basketball league, Basketligan, was to sink his teeth into his favorite burger at TGI Friday’s.
It was there that Dunston not only enjoyed his burger, but had time to reflect on his collegiate experience, his first two seasons of playing professionally in Europe, and what the future might hold for the two-time North Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
Dunston and the 2015-16 Lancaster Bible squad had the finest season in program history, as the Chargers won their first 27 games, including the program’s first-ever NEAC Championship. After dropping the NEAC Final as a sophomore and junior, Dunston, along with Bryce Williams, Dondre Perry, Jordan Mellinger, Kurt Keltner, Herbie Brown and a band of others, stormed through the regular season in 2015-16, and hammered Morrisville State, 97-71 in the NEAC Final to secure the team’s first NCAA Division III National Tournament bid.
The Chargers’ historical run, one that saw them ranked 13th in the D3hoops.com Top 25 Poll prior to the tournament, came to an end in the NCAA Division III First Round, as Wooster took down the Chargers, 96-83 in Washington, D.C. Dunston averaged 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds a game during his senior campaign, and was not only named the NEAC’s Player of the Year, but also to the D3hoops.com Men’s All-East Region Second Team. He also appeared on SportCenter’s Top 10, as he threw down an amazing dunk as he messed around with some friends at Horst Athletic Center one evening.
Dunston and his fellow seniors graduated that May, and while they have each taken different paths following their time at Lancaster Bible, it has been Dunston who stayed with the game he grew up loving, propelling himself to excel on the professional level.
Dunston headed to Spain for the 2016-17 season after being picked up by CP La Roda. The team, which competes in the fourth tier of the Spanish Basketball league system, finished 25-8 as Dunston adjusted to professional basketball.
Dunston moved to Guadalajara for the 2017-18 season, as the team plays in the most competitive group of Division Four in Spain. Dunston had a breakout season for the team, as he led them to a fifth place finish, and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player for the 2017-18 season. Dunston averaged 14.2 points, 8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game, and shot 70 percent from the floor.
“There are lots of good European players in the league, and there are also lots of NCAA Division I guys in the league as well,” Dunston explained. “I was a bit surprised by the level of play when I got there two years ago, but believed in myself and knew I could adjust and succeed.”
Dunston said he hoped to move up divisions after a year at CP La Roda, but NCAA Division III players don’t garner much respect from many of the programs in Spain.
“I was obviously hoping to move up, but it’s tough, as NCAA Division III isn’t thought of that well yet, and you have to show you can play with the big guys and earn your spot,” Dunston said.
While he was excelling on the floor, Dunston was also learning a lot and immersing himself in the Spanish culture off of the floor. Though he had a rigid schedule of training and all of the things that come along with playing professional sports, Dunston made time to visit sites and see Madrid, which was just a short train ride away.
“My schedule was pretty repetitive with working out, resting, practicing and playing, but on off days I would go to Madrid, see the sights, shop, and go to parks,” Dunston said. “My Spanish wasn’t very good at first, but I began making friends and slowly learned more and more. The more outgoing you are, the more places and events you will get invited to, so that gave me a reason to want to go out and experience Spain.”
Dunston also got to experience being recognized in public, something everyone dreams of as a kid, but few get to experience in reality.
“Kids in the town will walk by and say to their parents, ‘Dunston, Dunston, that’s the basketball guy,’ so that is pretty cool,” Dunston said.
As he prepares for the 2018-19 season, Dunston, who was swimming in his Lancaster Bible jersey as a freshman, and could’ve ripped it apart with his frame as a senior, fondly remembers his time in Lancaster, and the lessons he learned on the basketball court, including a hard one his freshman year.
“I think Head Coach Marshall Tague (2012-15) definitely prepared me for what it was going to take on the defensive end of the floor to play professionally,” Dunston explained. “Coach Tague wouldn’t play me my freshman year until I started to take my defensive responsibilities seriously, and in Europe, it isn’t about the points you score, but the defensive stops you get. I stunk on defense for much of my freshman season, and Coach Tague wouldn’t give me time on the floor until I gave effort on both ends, and I really had to change my approach.”
Dunston said he thinks often of the 2015-16 Lancaster Bible team, and still keeps up with many of his teammates from that year.
“We worked so hard to accomplish that goal after coming so close in 2014 and 2015,” Dunston pointed out. “That will always be a great memory for me, even though it ended so quickly in the NCAA Tournament.”
As he finished his burger (and fries), Dunston began to think about his upcoming season, one that will take him from Spain, and send him to Sweden, as he begins playing for the Wetterbygden Stars in Jonkoping, Sweden. The Stars, which compete in the country’s top division, Basketligan, begin play on Sept. 21.
Dunston credited his agent, Braulio Arias Hernandez, with helping him sign with Wetterbygden, as this is a big step in Dunston’s career and a tremendous opportunity.
“My agent doesn’t usually take NCAA Division III players, but he signed me, and has really stuck his neck out there for me,” Dunston said. “Wetterbygden is a great club and I am looking forward to playing hard and helping the team win. I plan on going in there with the same mentality I have had over the past two seasons in Spain, which is working hard, and believing in my abilities.”
Though he will be away from the States for close to 10 months, Dunston said he enjoys playing overseas, and still loves the ups and the downs the game can bring.
“I really like that we play about one or two games a week,” Dunston said. “If you play really well in a game, it’s the best feeling and the week is great, however, if you play poorly, it is the longest week or a couple of days of your life.”
Dunston said being away from family and friends is tough, but he knows they are supporting him every way they can from the U.S.
“It can get rough being away that long sometimes, but I know my family is supporting me, and they watch as many games as they can online,” Dunston explained. “It’s a long time, but I have a job to do, and I am doing something I love.”
As the waitress came and retrieved Dunston’s cleaned plate, he said goodbye to his favorite burger for a while as it marked the end of another summer, but the start of what could be Dunston’s biggest season yet.
The humble kid from Elkton, Maryland who wouldn’t play defense as a freshman, who then transformed not only his game, but his body, to become the best player in the conference, and then league MVP in Spain, walked out into the rain at Park City Center mall, and into a future that is brighter than ever.