By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — They see each other often on Grounds—in class and at John Paul Jones Arena—and those encounters remind Paris Clark and Ryan Dunn of home.

Their friendship began in the fall of 2019. Clark was then a sophomore at Long Island Lutheran, and Dunn was a grade ahead of her at the Brookville, N.Y., high school. His family lives in Freeport, N.Y., and he’d returned to Long Island after spending the 2018-19 school year as a boarding student at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.

Clark knew nothing about Dunn before they met, but Dunn was aware of Clark’s status as a basketball phenom. His best friend, Matthew Mahoney, played on the boys’ team at Long Island Lutheran, which is known as LuHi, and he’d told Dunn about Clark’s exploits on the court.

Dunn and Clark grew closer in 2020-21, but then their paths diverged. In 2021-22, Dunn spent a postgraduate year as a boarding student at Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, Pa., and Clark finished up at LuHi, where she was named a McDonald’s All-American.

Each headed off to college in the summer of 2022—Clark to the University of Arizona and Dunn to the University of Virginia—and it appeared unlikely that their basketball careers would intersect again. But Clark entered the transfer portal last spring, and among the head coaches who contacted her was UVA’s Amaka Agugua-Hamilton.

On her visit to Virginia, Clark reconnected with Dunn. “We hung out. It was cool,” she recalled recently at JPJ.

“When she told me she was coming to visit, I was excited,” Dunn said, “and then when she committed, I was even more excited, because I feel like it’s a good program and she’s gonna do well for herself here.”

Dunn was happy to assist the Wahoos in their pursuit of Clark, a 5-foot-8 guard. “Right before I was about to commit,” Clark said, “we were just talking about it and he was telling me, ‘You should definitely come, it’s kind of like LuHi all over again. The two of us going to high school and going to college together would be great.’ “

Paris Clark

An ankle injury delayed Clark’s UVA debut, but she’s started four of the six games in which she’s played this season. She scored 19 points in Virginia’s close loss to reigning NCAA champion LSU last month and followed that with a 14-point outing in an ACC/SEC Challenge win over Missouri.

The Cavalier women (7-2) host Wofford (6-4) at JPJ at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Clark is “a three-level scorer,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “She can get downhill, she can finish, she can shoot. She has a lot to her offensive bag. But defensively is really where she thrives … She’s probably our best on-ball defender, I would say.”

Whenever possible, Dunn said, he attends games at JPJ to support the women’s team and Clark. “Making sure she knows I’m there seeing her hooping and doing what I knew she did in high school,” he said. “It was funny, nobody really knew who she was when she [arrived at UVA], so it was kind of cool saying, ‘She’s really good.’ And then she showed it against these teams like LSU. Everyone was kind of shocked, but I knew what she could do, and I’m just very happy that she’s able to do it here.”

Unlike Clark, who grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., the 6-foot-8 Dunn received little fanfare during his basketball career at Long Island Lutheran, and he headed to Perkiomen to try to raise his stock with Division I programs. He succeeded, earning a scholarship offer from UVA.

Still, he was considered a project and a redshirt candidate when he joined head coach Tony Bennett’s program in June 2022. That soon changed. The Cavaliers’ coaching staff quickly learned that he “brought this energy that we couldn’t deny,” Bennett said, and Dunn ended up averaging about 13 minutes per game for a team that earned a share of the ACC’s regular-season title in 2022-23.

Ryan Dunn

As a sophomore, he’s become a defensive force who’s projected as a first-round pick in NBA mock drafts. Dunn, who’s third on the team in scoring (9.3 ppg), leads the 22nd-ranked Hoos in rebounding (6.3 per game) and blocked shots (2.6 per game). Among his teammates, only senior guard Reece Beekman, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, has more steals than Dunn. They have 25 and 23, respectively.

“We have the two best defenders in the nation,” Virginia swingman Leon Bond III said.

To see the progress Dunn has made is “a joy to me,” Bennett said. “That’s one of my favorite things ever in coaching: watching a guy just go after his game and take another step.”

Dunn said: “I put in a lot of work this offseason. I put in a lot of work all my life, and it’s just now starting to come to fruition, and it’s starting to come to light, but I can never take a day off.”

The UVA men (8-1) host Northeastern (4-6) at JPJ at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Clark knew Dunn before his game blew up, and to see him listed among the top players in college basketball this season is “definitely crazy,” she said. “But I’m definitely proud of him, and it makes me happy that Virginia gave him the chance and he showed the world this is what he’s capable of. He has a bright future in front of him.”

Paris Clark

Back in New York, Ukwan Milliner is proudly following the careers of Clark and Dunn. A videographer and content producer who runs Vintage Visualz, Milliner met Clark when she was 14 and playing AAU ball for Exodus NYC. She put on a show that day.

“I was kind of in awe,” Milliner said, “with her being so young.”

He didn’t meet Dunn until a couple of years later. At an event for under-the-radar prospects, Dunn stood out, Milliner said. “He was just special. It wasn’t even close, and the interesting thing was, nobody expected him to the best in the gym at a time I don’t think anybody knew who he was.”

Milliner became close with both players, who call him Vintage. He made the video in which Dunn announced his commitment to UVA, and he’s produced content for Clark, too.

“Honestly, they’re both like family,” Milliner said. “To see Ryan on TV and see Paris being that special kid that I saw when she was 14 years old, it means so much to me in a way that I can’t even express. I’m beyond happy to see both of them panning out. “

Clark and Dunn are role models for young players in the New York City area, Milliner said, and he’s thrilled that they’ve been reunited in Charlottesville.

“It’s special,” he said. “It’s cool for me to actually witness.”

A grade apart in high school, Clark and Dunn are second-year students at UVA. They have two classes together—media studies and drama—and so they see each other more often than at LuHi, which switched to online instruction when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.

“I think we grew a lot closer when she came here,” Dunn said.

Clark is still something of a newcomer at Virginia, but with Dunn and her teammates, she has no shortage of resources on Grounds.

“So far it’s been great,” Clark said. “Everybody’s welcoming. I’ve been able to make friends. And I just feel like it’s been an environment for me to really grow on and off the court.”

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Ryan Dunn