- Ian Livingston Brooking
Tony Dunkin, 25 years later
It has been 25 years since Tony Dunkin, one of the greatest Coastal Carolina basketball players of all-time played his last game in a Coastal Carolina uniform.
Dunkin, who played at Coastal Carolina from 1989 to 1993, is the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,151 points.
However, Coastal Carolina was not Dunkin’s first choice when he was coming out of high school in 1988.
“I originally attended Jacksonville University,” said Dunkin. “I just didn’t like it there and when I came back to South Carolina, I tried to get into Clemson. And then I realized that Clemson was still far away from my home. That was when my mom and my sister suggested trying Coastal.”
Dunkin was forced to sit out the first five games due to NCAA eligibility rules. In his collegiate debut on December 9, 1989 against Georgia Tech, Dunkin scored 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
Dunkin talked about what his freshman year was like on the court and helping lead the team to winning the Big South Tournament in 1990.
“I had a lot of amazing teammates to help me in my freshman year, “Robert Dowdell and Brian Penny really helped me grow. Being a younger me, I was very athletic and was able to get off the floor and jump. I was able to carve out a niche there and be the best athlete I could possibly be and to win the Big South tournament in my freshman season was something special.”
While the team won the Big South, the conference did not have an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament that year so the Chanticleers did not get to make the 1990 NCAA Tournament. The NCAA awarded an automatic berth to the program that won the 1990-1991 Big South Tournament.
Dunkin said that once the team found that out, they began to play like they were “men on a mission”.
“Once coach told us that at the beginning of the year, that was the goal all year long,” said Dunkin. “In every game that season, we tried to position ourselves to be the number one seed.”
The Chanticleers started the 1990-91 season with a 6-1 record but lost five of their next eight games. The Chanticleers would go on a 12-1 run to end the season with a record of 21-7 and 13-1 in Big South play.
Coastal would breeze past Campbell in the quarterfinals of the Big South tournament and escape the semifinal matchup with Davidson. That would setup a rematch with the only team to beat Coastal in conference play that season – Augusta State.
“We lost to Augusta with less than two weeks until the Big South tournament started,” said Dunkin. “We overlooked them and that is one thing you can never do. Augusta had the late game and as we were coming off the floor, the guys from Augusta looked at us and told us not to worry and that ‘we will see you tomorrow’. We took that personally. I got in the locker room and told the team that not only do I want Augusta to win, I want to beat them badly in the tournament championship.”
And Coastal did just that, beating Augusta State by a score of 89-54 and thus giving the Chanticleers a chance at a play-in game for the 1991 NCAA Tournament.
Coastal would defeat Jackson State 78-59 and the Chanticleers would be given the 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament and would take on legendary coach Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers.
Dunkin talked about what it was like to take on the legendary Hoosier team that four years ago won the national title.
“Going into Freedom Hall and seeing that crowd, you couldn’t hear yourself talk,” said Dunkin. “It was certainly a humbling experience to play the best of best and go up against a Bobby Knight team. Brian Penny was so hot that night that he could have kicked it and it would have gone in.”
At the end of his sophomore season, Dunkin became the first player in Big South history win Player of the Year in back-to-back season.
In his junior year, Dunkin won Big South Player of the Year for a third consecutive season. Dunkin averaged 22.5 points per game. Dunkin’s stats were impressive despite the team going 12-19 in the 1991-1992 season.
Dunkin said that if it wasn’t for a talk with Jess Dannelly, Coastal’s softball coach from 1987 to 2009, he would have left Coastal Carolina.
In his senior year, Dunkin left everything he had on the floor, averaging 23.7 points per game and shooting 47 percent from three-point range.
Dunkin talked about what it was like going into his final season as a Chanticleer and the goal to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
“There were three guys, including myself, coming back the following season,” said Dunkin. “Coach had gotten rid of almost everybody who was there my junior season and he brought in mainly junior college players.”
After losing three straight games to fall to 7-8, the Chanticleers would go 15-1 to finish off the regular season as Big South Regular Season Champions and win the Big South Tournament to go back to the NCAA Tournament.
“Once we picked things up on the defensive side of things, that was when things really started to come together,” said Dunkin. “We had plenty of talent from Keke Hicks to Mohammed Acha who really helped us get back to the tournament.”
In the 1993 NCAA Tournament, the Chanticleers were matched up against the infamous “Fab Five” of the Michigan Wolverines. While Coastal would fall 84-53 to the eventual national runners-up, Dunkin said it was another humbling experience.
“We knew on paper that we weren’t even in the same arena as those guys,” said Dunkin. “But we knew that we had come into that game ready to compete. We were hoping that they were going to have a bad day.”
Dunkin would win his unprecedented fourth consecutive Big South Player of the Year after the 1992-1993 season. To this day, there is no other player in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history who has accomplished this feat.
“After I won it my junior year, I felt extremely blessed to win that award,” said Dunkin. “I honestly didn’t focus on the award until my senior year but Coach Bergmann didn’t want it to take up my time because he wanted my main focus to be us getting back to the tournament. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
In 2014, the Chanticleers, led by players such as Elijah Wilson, Colton Ray-St. Cyr and Warren Gillis, would win the Big South Tournament and go back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Dunkin was at Coastal.
Elijah Wilson, who finished his career in 2017 in third place on the Coastal all-time scoring list with 1,885 points, talked about what it was like to be a part of a Coastal team to take part in the Big Dance.
“It felt great knowing that prior to us going in 2014 it was a very long time since Coastal have been since then so we were honored to start up the tradition again,” said Wilson.
Coastal would win the Big South again the following year and go back to the NCAA Tournament and make back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in program history.