PAWTUCKET — Charles Correa admits that Saturday, Jan. 7 has been in his sights the moment he first laid eyes on St. Raphael’s schedule.
As the date that’s been circled in red and ingrained in his mind draws near, Correa’s competitive fire only intensifies. Come Saturday night at CCRI-Warwick, the 5-foot-8 junior will draw the assignment of shadowing New London (Conn.) High School senior and Providence College-bound Kris Dunn.
It’s a challenge Correa willingly accepts, knowing full well that in order to reach the lofty heights Dunn has already scaled, a solid performance inside an anticipated rocking Vin Cullen Field House is a prerequisite.
If that seems way too much pressure to heap upon a teenage lad to the point that it’s almost unfair, then you haven’t been around town with Correa. Everyone he runs into asks Correa about his looming mano-a-mano matchup with Dunn, a player lauded as the nation’s No. 2 point guard among ESPNU’s top 100.
“My mom and I, we went into a store and somebody said, ‘Oh, we’ll be at that game,’” Correa said. “That brought the game right back in my head.”
Correa’s point guard counterpart will also have his own pressure cooker to deal with. Saturday marks the first of two scheduled high school games that the 6-3, 180-pound Dunn will play in Rhode Island in 2012, the other on the docket for Feb. 4 at PC’s Alumni Hall against Mt. Pleasant.
Even with Saturday’s Providence-Seton Hall game set to tip off at The Dunk roughly 90 minutes before the scheduled 7:30 p.m. start for St. Raphael-New London, plenty of Friar fans figure to make their way to CCRI to catch a glimpse of Dunn.
“Kris Dunn is a kid who always plays hard on the court anyway, so I don’t anticipate anything but Kris to go out there and hopefully play his game the way he has been the past four years,” said New London head coach Craig Parker via phone Wednesday. “He always plays hard and leaves everything on the floor.”
Saturday won’t mark Correa’s first encounter with Dunn. Last season, St. Raphael traveled to New London only to get run out of the gym in the opening minutes. Dunn poured in a game-high 29 points for the Whalers, who scored a convincing 100-73 decision after leading 54-22 at halftime.
Not a day goes by that Correa’s mind doesn’t drift back to the nightmare that was the New London game, which saw him net 17 points. To get outclassed and outplayed was a humiliating experience that makes the whippet yearn for yet another crack at Dunn & Co.
“I didn’t know who Kris Dunn was last year. [St. Raphael head coach Tom “Saar” Sorrentine] told me a few things about him,” Correa recalled. “I didn’t think he was that explosive, but he started the game with a dunk.
“We came out way too nervous,” continued Correa, who through eight games is averaging 22 points and eight assists. “They were good and you can’t underestimate them, but it would have been a different game had we not dug ourselves too deep a hole.”
Parker’s retort echoed that of R.I.-based head coaches when asked what impressions Correa made during last year’s encounter. “We saw a very good basketball player who has a good feel for the game. He has good quickness at the point guard spot and is sort of a nightmare from a coach’s standpoint, facing someone of his caliber.”
There are two distinct reasons as to why Sorrentine actively seeks out tough, demanding games to plug in the non-league holes in St. Raphael’s schedule. First, the veteran mentor is a firm believer in providing his players with a stern challenge that borders on the unknown, the kind that can only help the team moving forward in its quest of back-to-back state championships.
St. Raphael has already participated in one such game this season. At Assumption College last month, the locals rallied from down 10 points at halftime to best St. Anthony’s of New York. The game was part of the Catholic Schools Showcase.
“It’s better playing out-of-state teams because you don’t know really that much about them. You have to adjust during the course of the game,” Sorrentine said.
As much as basketball is a team-oriented exercise, there’s also the individual aspect that Sorrentine takes under advisement when scheduling marquee teams such as New London. Plenty of college recruiters and scouts figure to be on hand Saturday to see Correa up close in addition to senior swingman Cesar Mejia, currently fielding offers from Division III schools.
“You’ve got to challenge them,” Sorrentine noted. “Charles and Cesar want to see what they can do against the kid Dunn.”
By no means has Dunn slacked off just because his college plans are set in stone. One season removed from guiding New London to an undefeated season and a state championship, the future Friar is averaging 34 points and 15 rebounds this season, numbers that surely have Dunn in the running for McDonald’s All-American consideration, by far the greatest honor bestowed upon a high school hoopster.
“I can’t speak for Kris, but I’m sure he’s comfortable knowing that his future is secure,” Parker said.
That’s what Correa hopes he can take the next step towards come Saturday in a game that could go a long way in legitimizing his reputation as a Division I prospect. Currently Albany and Marist are the only Div. I schools to show serious interest in him.
“He’s not at PC yet. He’s still in high school,” Correa said about Dunn, adding “but I’m going to have to raise my game.”