For Dan Monckton, dunking a basketball is somewhat of a guilty pleasure.
“I enjoy dunking,” the College junior said. “I’m not gonna lie.”
The swing man’s reserve toward the topic makes sense, since when you ask his coach about the slam dunk — basketball’s ultimate highlight reel play — you get a response like this:
“Once the ball goes through the net, you have to make that transition back to defense,” interim head coach Jerome Allen said. “Coach [Fran] Dunphy used to always say, ‘It’s only two points.’”
But while the man in charge might temper a player’s enthusiasm for rattling the rim, there’s no doubt that those who can dunk will pull off the athletic feat when the opportunity arises.
Monckton is no different.
The high-rising throwdown has become the guard’s signature play, and while his slams used to be his only calling card, Penn fans have been hearing Monckton’s name more and more in recent weeks.
His first highlight came way back in November. Monckton introduced himself to the Palestra crowd the only way he knew how — with a thunderous jam down the lane against Delaware, the bright spot of his 23-minute run that game.
The minutes — and highlights — have kept coming.
Against Brown Jan. 30, he scored 11 points, including the game-winning put-back at the buzzer. He then added 19 more (a career high) to go along with 8 rebounds against Harvard two weeks ago.
The junior, who played just five minutes per game — if he got into the game at all — during his first two seasons called his emergence “very rewarding.”
“The first couple games [this season] when I played significant minutes and actually contributed, I felt kind of relieved,” he said. “Not playing for two years, you start to doubt yourself. You start to doubt if it’s worth it.”
But after earning the sixth man role, Monckton has started to give the rims a rest.
“At this point in my career I don’t dunk as much [as I used to],” he said. “[Dunking] used to be real exciting, [but] now when I do it, it’s just to be aggressive.”
Still, the memories of dunks past endure. For players who live above the rim like Monckton, a spectacular jam becomes a notch on one’s belt, a prized possession.
There’s the first dunk: “In the driveway with my best friend, the summer going into my freshman year of high school.”
The ‘poster-ization’: “There was one in AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] — it was the semifinals … This kid who I stole [the ball] from wanted to try to block it … so I went up and kind of cocked it back with one hand and dunked on this kid. The game had to stop because everyone was going crazy.”
And then there’s the stuff of legends. During his junior year at Glenbrook South High School, Monckton gave the Illinois State Dunk Contest a go. He advanced from the qualifying round, but the achievement came with a price — he injured his wrist from hitting the rim so many times.
Despite having his right hand taped up for the final rounds, Monckton still finished fourth in the competition.
Though it took a while for the guard to settle into his new spot at Penn (Monckton played power forward until his junior year of high school), the Glenview native has finally found a comfort level that allows him to dunk during collegiate games.
He needs both hands to count the number of times he’s thrown down this season.
“In drills, he dunks whenever — I mean, it’s just so easy for him,” said Rob Belcore, Monckton’s teammate since their AAU days in 9th grade.
“It’s like a layup for everyone else,” the Wharton sophomore added.
The bounce in Monckton’s step runs in his family. His father played college basketball at William and Mary and his mother is a professional tennis instructor.
“His athleticism is not really rivaled by anyone, probably, in the [Ivy] League,” Belcore said.
That includes, apparently, one of the Ancient Eight’s all-time greats.
“He’s a much better athlete than I was,” Allen said. “There’s no comparison between Danny and I.”
But Monckton rising up from the Palestra floor almost didn’t happen. For a while, it was more plausible that he’d be jumping off of a different surface — the Franklin Field turf.
At 6-foot-6, Monckton had used his size and athleticism as a wide receiver to vault himself onto the list of the Chicago area’s top-100 high school football players. But after breaking his collarbone in his final football game, he decided that collegiate hoops was the better option.
“The decision was a lot based on health and safety,” said Monckton, who considers himself a better football player than basketball player.
“And also, for me, basketball was starting to become a little bit more manageable, more fun.”
And, of course, he had to answer the all-important question: which is a better feeling, leaping to snag a touchdown pass or dunking a basketball?
“Dunking a basketball — I think that also could have been a deciding factor.”