Bulldogs sign RJ Sunahara, DII Player of the Year
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Bulldogs sign RJ Sunahara, DII Player of the Year

RJ Sunahara
Photo: MaCabe Brown / Courier & Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

ATHENS, Ga. – RJ Sunahara, who was named 2023 Division II National Player of the Year after leading Nova Southeastern to an undefeated season and NCAA Championship, has signed a letter-of-intent to play for the Georgia Bulldogs, head coach Mike White announced on Friday.

Sunahara (pronounced soon-uh-harr-uh), a 6-8, 210-pound forward, was named DII Player of the Year and won the Bevo Francis Award as the nation’s top small college player following Nova Southeastern’s perfect 36-0 campaign in 2022-23. He averaged 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.6 blocks in 26.7 minutes per game for the Sharks, while shooting 59.9 percent from the floor, 40.0 percent from 3-point range and 74.3 percent from the line. Sunahara capped his career at Nova Southeastern with a 29-point, nine-rebound outing in a 111-101 win over West Liberty University in the Division II national championship game.

Sunahara started all 92 games played over three seasons with the Sharks and amassed 1,579 points (17.2 ppg), 585 rebounds (6.4 rpg), 232 assists (2.5 apg), 172 blocks (1.9 bpg) and 132 steals (1.4 spg). He is Nova Southeastern’s career leader in blocked shots and free throws made (342) and also ranks No. 2 in scoring, No. 2 in field goals (594) and No. 6 in rebounds. Sunahara was named the Sunshine State Conference’s Player of the Year in 2023, Defensive Player of the Year in 2022 and Freshman of the Year in 2020. Nova Southeastern was 90-7 during Sunahara’s career, going 36-0 in 2022-23, 31-1 in 2021-22 and 24-6 in 2019-20. The Sunshine State Conference season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Sunahara redshirted during the 2018-19 season at Fairmont State University. A native of Bay Village, Ohio, Sunahara played basketball and football at Bay High School. As a senior, he averaged 22.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.6 blocks per game en route to earning Conference and Morning Journal Player of the Year honors and second-team all-state accolades.

Sunahara becomes the ninth newcomer to sign with the Bulldogs for the next season, joining four transfers and four prep prospects. Georgia is one of only two programs with both its high school and transfer recruiting classes ranked among the top-20 nationally according to 0n3.com. The website lists the Bulldogs’ batch of transfers at No. 8 and the prep players at No. 18 in its respective ledgers.

In addition to Sunahara, Georgia’s four other transfers are Jalen DeLoach, an All-Atlantic 10 performer at VCU in 2022-23 who is originally from Savannah, Ga.; RJ Melendez, ESPN.com’s No. 56 recruit in the Class of 2021 who played at Illinois the last two seasons; Russel Tchewa (pronounced chee-wuh), the second-leading rebounder in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) and second-leading scorer for South Florida last season; and Noah Thomasson, who led the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and ranked No. 34 nationally in scoring last season at 19.5 points per game at Niagara.

The four high school signees are all ranked among the top-100 prospects in the Class of 2023. Last November, the Bulldogs inked two ESPN.com top-100 prospects – No. 83 Mari Jordan, a small forward from Norcross High School, and No. 90 Dylan James, a power forward from Winter Haven (Fla.) High School. This spring, Georgia added Blue Cain, a shooting guard from Knoxville, Tenn., and the IMG Academy ranked No. 52 by ESPN.com, and Silas Demary Jr., a guard from Raleigh, N.C. ranked as high as No. 41 nationally by On3.com.

During White’s first season in Athens, the Bulldogs’ improved from 6-26 in 2021-22 to 16-16 in 2022-23. Georgia’s +10 win tally represented the second-biggest regular-season improvement by any Power 5 program last season.

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