Riverbank’s Dunham is Bee’s All-District Player of the Year

bvanderbeek@modbee.comApril 5, 2014 

— Family. Education. Basketball. In that order. Etched in stone.

Anyone who has had the chance to watch Rolaun Dunham play basketball for the Riverbank High varsity team the last four seasons can attest to how much he’s grown on the court.

The 6-feet, 2-inch guard averaged 10 points as a freshman, 14 as a sophomore, 16.1 as a junior and 18.2 as a senior as the Bruins flew through four of the greatest years in school history under coach Jeff Jennings, compiling an 88-24 record.

But what makes this year’s Modesto Bee Stanislaus District Player of the Year such a special young man is his decision-making. On the court, he’s been the catalyst for Riverbank’s basketball success, showing from his freshman year on the ability to get his teammates involved in the action.

And if that weren’t impressive enough, the decisions he has made off the court speak even more loudly.

Raised by his grandmother Erma Jean Solomon, with his father out of the picture, Dunham decided very early that not only would he attend college, but that he would use basketball as his pathway to education. A 3.8 student who will have six AP courses under his belt when he graduates in June, Dunham has accepted a full academic aid package to study computer science and play basketball at Division III Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash.

His journey to Whitman started all the way back in third grade.

“I always was good with numbers, but in the third grade my sisters were in middle school and were telling me it was so much harder and that I couldn’t beat them academically,” Dunham said. “It was always so competitive and I always wanted to be better than my sisters.”

His sisters set lofty standards. Big sister Tora Robertson was a multi-sport athlete at Riverbank who is studying nursing at Sacramento State. Middle sister Tempest Robertson was the student body president at RHS and attends UC Irvine.

Think grandma’s proud?

“My grandma has done a great job raising me,” Dunham said, beaming.

Through grade school, Dunham emerged as one of the better youth basketball prospects in the area, and with that attention came the opportunity to attend private high schools in the area – places where the competition and exposure would be greater than at Riverbank.

But remember ... family, education, basketball.

“I came here because Coach Jennings was here,” Dunham said. “I met him in fourth grade youth league and we got closer and closer through the years. My sisters already were here and I didn’t want to leave my friends. It felt like a family here and I didn’t think I was going to be able to get that feeling anywhere else.

“Had I gone to school in Modesto, I would have come home to Riverbank after school and then stayed home instead of hanging out with high school friends.”

Once in high school, Dunham continued to make all the right choices to keep him on path.

“All kids would like to identify with the idea of being a college D-I guy or a D-II guy, but Rolaun has been so mature, even as a freshman in high school, that he knew what he wanted even at that early age,” said Jennings, who is the Bee’s Coach of the Year. “He had a lot of people telling him he needed to do this or that to improve his basketball stock, but he knew what was best for him.

“We’d have a late game and I’d see him the next morning at 8 a.m. just dragging because he’d been up until 3 o’clock doing his homework. He’s always been that committed. You don’t find that very often in kids.”

And even in advancing his own scoring average each season, it was clear Dunham always was more worried about winning and making his teammates better than his own scoring average, yet still finished his career with 1,470 points.

“The unselfishness on this team started with Rolaun,” Jennings said. “You think of the numbers he could have put up against what he did. There were times in his sophomore and junior years that I told him to start shooting the ball or I’d take him out of the game.”

Fast forward to the college recruitment process. Dunham received serious attention, but no offers, from Sacramento State and Pepperdine, and made official visits to Chico State and Cal State Stanislaus. Once he visited Whitman, he knew he was home. Dunham had found his new family.

“We sat down and talked about the whole deal,” Jennings said. “Sac State and Pepperdine showed a lot of interest, but no offers. We visited Chico and Stanislaus, both great programs with great coaches.

“Rolaun made a list of this college priorities and No. 1 was his education. Once that became the focal point, the rest fell into place. Coach (Eric) Bridgeland – the relationship he has with his players and the family environment he’s built – those all were things that Rolaun was drawn to.”

Even the decision to attend Whitman underscored how Dunham emphasizes academics over basketball. Whitman does not offer a degree in computer science, but it does offer a three-year program in related subjects that qualifies top students for preferred transfer status to other universities for the purpose of completing those degree requirements.

Schools that have accepted Whitman transfers under this specific program include Duke, Cal Tech, Washington, Washington State and Washington University in St. Louis. It’s quite a list, but basketball-wise, taking advantage of the transfer means Dunham would be leaving Whitman after three years.

Again ... education over basketball, and it remains obvious that the clear-headed decisions Dunham has made to reach this point won’t be stopping when it comes times to step off the college campus.

While nearly every elite player his age speaks openly about making a career of basketball, remember that Dunham said he’s always been good with numbers. He knows the odds.

“I would like the chance to go pro, but that’s not what I want out of life,” he said. “In this day and age, everything is based on your education. Injuries happen, and having that education first would be more valuable than even going to the NBA.”

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or (209) 578-2150. His blog is at www.modbee.com/brianvanderbeek.

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