RICHMOND — He sat a year, then learned on the fly last season.
Now, Mike DiNunno may be ready to take another step forward in leading the Eastern Kentucky Colonels.
A 5-foot-11 senior from Chicago, DiNunno began his collegiate career at Northern Illinois and started 50 of 60 games in which he appeared over two seasons.
He transferred to EKU, watched for a year, then contributed 9.5 points and 2.8 assists last season.
"I think Mike learned so much from last year," Coach Jeff Neubauer said. "And it's really been a case — not only in our program, but in college basketball — that your first year playing college basketball, whether you're a high school player, junior-college transfer or a Division I transfer like Mike DiNunno, your first year playing is a learning experience when you're in a new program. Then your second year, you really can excel.
"Maybe that's more in our program than in others — we do ask our guys to think more on the court than a lot of other programs. But we've seen Jaron Jones was the most improved player in the country last year. He went from two points to 17 points from his first year to his second year in our program. So I think Mike is going to pay dividends in that way as well."
DiNunno wound up at EKU by following Neubauer assistant Luke Strege. Strege, then at Quincy (Ill.), had tried to recruit DiNunno out of Von Steuben High School.
"When (Strege) landed the job here, he didn't take part in the recruiting process for me coming here as much because he had some loyalties to (Coach) Marty Bell at Quincy, and he didn't want to go behind Marty's back or anything," DiNunno said. "But I made the choice to come visit here. I liked everything that I saw with the offense and the group of guys that were here. It was late and it was a great fit."
DiNunno made 33 three-pointers and led EKU in assists last season.
"I'm a lot more comfortable this year," he said. "I was talking earlier with Coach about coming off my redshirt year, how I was getting back into the swing of things, it took me a little bit of time to get comfortable with the offense and just the in-game situations. So I'm definitely a lot more comfortable with the offense and in the game."
This pre-season, he and a junior-college transfer have Neubauer excited about defensive ability at the guards.
"We're pressuring the ball more than we ever have. We've got guards who are capable of doing that," Neubauer said. "Mike DiNunno is a very quick, tough-minded guard and he has done a great job to this point of pressuring the ball. Glenn Cosey is our other guard that really has done a good job of pressuring the ball. And the other thing that we're encouraging is we want our other players to 'deny' so we are taking away more passes than we ever have."
The next step comes Friday, when the Colonels open the season against Cincinnati Christian — the first of seven straight home games.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com