1,347 days. That’s the number of days that CJ Dunston (’16) was a student at Lancaster Bible College. Many of those days were spent on the basketball court, whether he was at practice, playing a pickup game with friends, or competing in the NCAA Division III Tournament. And while he’s widely regarded as an outstanding athlete, there’s much more to Dunston than just his athletic abilities. His athletic prowess on the basketball court may have been what first caught LBC’s attention, but his interactions with teammates, friends, classmates and professors off the court also left a lasting impression – even more than his big dunks, impressive scoring records, or even his appearance on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” earlier this year.
As he walked across campus, it was quite literally impossible to overlook Dunstan – at 6 foot 5 inches, he towered above most students. But it wasn’t always that way, said Bill Smith, Dunston’s high school basketball head coach at Tri-State Christian Academy in Elkton, Maryland. Smith described eighth grade Dunston as a skinny, scrawny kid. “CJ wore the same uniform all through high school,” Smith said. “The jersey was huge on him at first, but as he grew throughout high school, he began to fill it out. And by his senior year, it fit pretty well.”
Despite his then small stature, one thing Dunston’s coach did notice about him almost immediately was his passion. “CJ liked to have a good time and enjoyed life,” Smith said. “He goofed around like a normal teenager, but he was good natured and performed well in the classroom and on the court.”
After enrolling at LBC, Dunston realized he had to step up his game – literally – to compete as a basketball player on the collegiate level. It took most of his freshman season to get there. “The first season was quite frustrating. But I think that year helped me turn into the player I am today because it made me work so hard in the off-season,” said Dunston. LBC’s Director of Athletics, Peter Beers, agrees with him, and believes learning to work hard may have been one of the greatest lessons Dunston learned at LBC. “I think CJ came in and was naïve as to the amount of work it was going to take to be great,” said Beers. “Through hard work and dedication, he became arguably one of the best players we’ve ever had . . . I think that process was very significant to him, and he never lost sight of the privilege it was to play basketball here.”
As Dunston began to improve on the court, he began developing off the court as well. “My friendships deepened, which really helped my growth as a player and [a] student,” Dunston said. “I had great classes, and my professors and I had some really good conversations about different aspects of both my faith and my major.”
In the final two seasons of Dunston’s basketball career at LBC, success finally came. He helped the Chargers to a 55-4 record over his last two years, including the program’s first-ever North Eastern Athletic Conference Championship and a trip to the NCAA Division III National Tournament during the 2015-16 campaign. Dunston was also named NEAC Player of the Year for the second straight season in 2015-16, and capped off his career with 1,531 points, which is the fourth highest in program history - not a bad way to end a college basketball career.
Dunston now intends to pursue professional basketball overseas, and when his playing days are over he hopes to become a coach. He even has aspirations of perhaps one day becoming an athletic director, using his hard-earned degree in sports management, unbeatable talent and what draws so many people to him: his likable personality.