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Dunlap eyeing WNBA as she prepares for even bigger 2011

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for wbsk uk_mich st dunlap 1.jpgThere was a time Victoria Dunlap couldn't even make the All-Southeastern Conference first team, when people feared Dunlap's potential and not her production.

But that was so one year ago.

Now, as Dunlap works into her final offseason as a Kentucky Wildcat, she has grander goals ahead than just all-conference honors. After winning the Southeastern Conference Player of Year in 2010 as the best player in the league, Dunlap says she wants to become the nation's top player and a top-five pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft.

She's even entertained thoughts of becoming the top overall pick in next year's draft.

"It is definitely a goal for me," Dunlap said. "I just want to make it."

If Dunlap can get anywhere close to duplicating last year's magical Elite Eight run, the WNBA won't be in question. The only part left uncertain will be her drafting order.

The dream of playing in the pros, one that didn't materialize until Dunlap's sophomore year in college, didn't start to become a realistic possibility until last year. Largely off the radar at the beginning of the season, Dunlap was the only player in the SEC to rank among the league's top three in scoring and rebounding. By season's end, she became Kentucky's second State Farm All-American in program history (Valerie Still was UK's first).

Although Kentucky was ousted from the NCAA Tournament a win short of the Final Four, Dunlap and head coach Matthew Mitchell headed to San Antonio anyway to watch the Final Four. It was there Mitchell learned that WNBA coaches had "a lot of interest in her" in drafting her services in 2011.

One coach in particular told Mitchell that she had the potential to be one of the top five picks in the draft.

"I think the reason people believe that and the reason I believe that is because she has so much talent and she's so explosive and so athletic," Mitchell said.

Mitchell relayed the information to Dunlap, transforming her dream into a very realistic possibility.

"I said to myself, 'OK, people can see my potential and I see it in myself, so I am going to just go out there and work hard and show people that I am even better than I was last year because I don't think I have applied my full potential,' " Dunlap said.

Dunlap realizes she still has a long way to go. Despite averaging 18.1 points, 8.4 rebounds rebounds and an SEC-best 3.1 steals per game last year for the 28-8 Wildcats, the 6-foot-1 senior-to-be said she has only begun to scratch the surface of her true potential.

Now that she's tasted success and received a glimpse of her future capabilities, she entered this offseason with an even hungrier mentality than the one that transformed her game the year before.

"It doesn't take just going to practice and just being there; it takes the extra work you have to put in," Dunlap said. "Working in the spring last year and then working to build myself up for this past year, it definitely helped me a lot and made my confidence even better. I think if somebody is willing to put in the work and see what it puts out, in the end you are able to be better than what you were expecting to be."

The Nashville, Tenn., native has the benefit of having seen the fruits of her labor. Mitchell often points to last year's preseason, the first healthy offseason of her UK tenure, as the turning point in her career.

"That's really where she made herself into the best player in the league," Mitchell said. "I give her all the credit for having the desire to want to be good and then actually going out and doing the work to be the best player in the conference and an All-American."

Dunlap started the 2009-10 year with three straight double-doubles and didn't fail to register a double-digit scoring effort until the Auburn game on Jan. 24. She was held in single digits just one other time the rest of the year.

Mitchell always believed Dunlap possessed the talent to become a significant contributor and she was the go-to player from the start of a spectacular 2009-10 season, but Dunlap had showed similar signs during a very good but very inconsistent sophomore season. It wasn't until a conference contest midway through last year that Dunlap had learned to play with the same fire and consistency on a nightly basis to become an elite-caliber player.

"I do remember one play that she made in the Arkansas game on the road," Mitchell said. "It was just a baseline move that she went up and scored. I thought she was going to drive to the goal and pass it out but she just kind of made that type of play that turns your head."

Moving forward, Dunlap still has room to improve.

"One thing I told Victoria is that she's not a guaranteed top-five pick right now," Mitchell said. "She really, really needs to go to work (to become a top pick)."

Dunlap doesn't have holes in her game, but she does have areas that she can fine tune.
If she can become a better ball handler and develop a more consistent outside shot, "she could become virtually unstoppable," Mitchell said.

Those additions, along with Dunlap's full complement of low-post moves and her tenacity on defense, would make her a very formidable wing in the WNBA, Mitchell said. It's those projections that lead many to believe that last year's project could become next year's prized professional selection.

But for now, Dunlap's attention has shifted to the 2011 season. Although the WNBA will remain on the back of her mind, building on the success of last year is the primary goal as Dunlap gears up for the upcoming season.

"We've still got to get in there and work hard," Dunlap said. "Just because of where we made it last year doesn't mean we can just settle for it."

Mitchell won't soon forget the Elite Eight team or Dunlap's sensational junior year because of how the team gelled and the first-time success they experienced together, but nobody is content on sitting on that success. Moving forward, Mitchell said the key for Dunlap and Kentucky will be remaining humble and hungry.

"We are the chased (now); we're not chasing anymore," Dunlap said. "We are being chased by other people, so we have to still put in the work and keep working harder so other people know it wasn't just one year that it happened, that it is going to continue to be the same this year and for years to come."

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