Published January 30. 2013 4:00AM
The significance of a Providence-UConn basketball game is not lost on these two players.
But not for the reason you might think.
It's more than just a meeting between two Big East schools and longtime New England college basketball rivals for PC's Kris Dunn and UConn's R.J. Evans.
For the first time, two former Eastern Connecticut Conference players will face each other in a Big East game when Providence hosts UConn on Thursday (7 p.m., SNY) at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
Dunn graduated from New London as the program's all-time leading scorer and Evans, who's from Salem, starred at Norwich Free Academy.
"It's definitely rare," Evans said of the meeting. "It's going to be a good opportunity. Hopefully, we get a chance to guard each other. That would be fun."
Dunn, a PC freshman, and Evans, a graduate student, never met on the court in high school.
Blossoming into a McDonald's All-American, Dunn decided to become a Friar. After graduating from NFA, Evans built a reputation as a fierce competitor and respected leader at Holy Cross before graduating and fulfilling the dream to play for the Huskies.
They've followed each other's careers.
"I've seen him working hard," Evans said. "He's a good kid. Any local kid gets respect from me. He's doing his thing over there."
Both players are looking forward to Thursday's game. Mutual friends and local fans will be forced to make a rooting choice.
"Playing against UConn is definitely going to be a great game for me," Dunn said. "I've got a lot of people from back home coming and, of course, Connecticut is where I grew up.
"I think people from back home are going to be excited about the game because they know that R.J., he was a great player at NFA, and then me coming from New London, then also New London-NFA is a rivalry, so it's going to be fun for people to come out and watch us both play."
Both Dunn and Evans have had to adjust to playing at a higher level and fitting into a new program. They've endured their share of adversity.
A shoulder injury forced Dunn, who had surgery in July, to miss the first nine games. He's not yet 100 percent and has experienced the usual freshman speed bumps. A 6-foot-3 guard, he's averaging 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 11 games, starting five.
"Basically, I'm just learning the game right now," Dunn said. "It is kind of frustrating because everybody is looking at me to make a big impact. But, then again, coach (Ed Cooley) is just keeping me calm, just telling me you have to learn the game first before you can make an impact."
Evans, a rugged 6-3 guard, has provided a valuable veteran presence and spark off the bench. He's appeared in 15 games, averaging 3.5 points and 1.5 rebounds, but missed two games with a collarbone area injury.
Any chance Evans and Dunn would be teammates at UConn disappeared during the recruiting process.
Cooley and his staff regularly attended New London games and built a strong relationship with Dunn.
UConn also recruited Dunn. While the Huskies were impressed with the talented Whaler, according to associate head coach Glen Miller, they were set at the guard position.
"They came to a lot of my AAU games and then also I visited there sometimes and worked out with some of the players at UConn," Dunn said. "But I just felt like Providence believed in me more and also made me feel like I was at home."
Now Dunn and Evans, two players from rival high school programs, will finally meet on the court.
As a Fitch graduate, Miller can appreciate what the game means to the two players and southeastern Connecticut sports fans.
"I think people who reside in southeastern Connecticut have a great deal of pride in their sports programs," Miller said. "In this case, you have two kids playing at schools close to home.
"… It was a really good feeling for me as a player and I'm sure it is for R.J. and Kris."