When Jalyn Dunlap swooped in to save the day and lift Westbury to the Long Island Class AA championship, he reaped the rewards after embracing different roles and learning on the fly.
The 5-11 guard mixed his time between starting and coming off the bench this season, but when crunchtime came, he delivered. But still, after banking in Sunday’s winner to cap a 24-point performance against Half Hollow Hills East, the stat line sits secondary to how his team performs.
“It’s a bigger picture,” Dunlap, a junior, said about where he fits in. “It’s about the team. If that’s what I have to do, then that’s what I have to do.”
The team is heading to a state semifinal against Mount Vernon in Binghamton on Saturday in part because of what Dunlap did. Days before the Long Island final, he injured his groin in a scrimmage. Long before any big shots were made, his main hope was to see time on the floor. But now, the success doesn’t feel real.
“To be honest, not really,” Dunlap said. “This is something that I’ve always dreamed of. For it to come to reality, I still don’t believe it sometimes.”
Dunlap, who is averaging 10.6 points, moved into a starting position when his teammate, Jonathan Dean, got hurt early in the season. He learned and improved before making his name on Feb. 10 against Baldwin, when he dropped 22. He gets mixed and matched depending on the size of the opposition, but that game showed coach Dave Graff what the player is becoming.
“That was kind of a breakout game for him,” Graff said. “He’s a good offensive player, he can put the ball in the basket and he’s given us a lift several times.”
Dunlap has made good use of Dean, who has averaged 16.2 points, and Darius Young, who has averaged 16.3. Having two top scorers close by allows for tough defensive assignments in practice, which has helped turn Dunlap into a two-way player who can go up against other team’s top playmakers.
“Those are my brothers,” Dunlap said. “They talk to me throughout the games, tell me what I should’ve done better, tell me what I’m doing good.”
The work also took Dunlap, a second-year varsity player, out of his comfort zone. A self-described laid-back guy, he upped his communication on and off the court, and it’s been a game-changer for his play.
“That’s just my personality,” Dunlap said. “We lost a couple games during the season, so I was like ‘something has to change if we want to reach our goal,’ so maybe it’s me.”
Through the changes and the rotations, Dunlap hasn’t forgotten what his goals are and what he’s looking to achieve. Each day can bring him closer to becoming an important piece on a team heading to the state championship.
“We practice like we’re going to win it,” he said. “We’re not here by accident. We’re going to actually go out there and try and bring it back.”