UK Women's Basketball

UK's Victoria Dunlap soaks up summer of sweat

Victoria Dunlap, third in the SEC in both scoring and rebounding last season, was named SEC Player of the Year. Next up is a bid for national player of the year and possibly a pro career.
Victoria Dunlap, third in the SEC in both scoring and rebounding last season, was named SEC Player of the Year. Next up is a bid for national player of the year and possibly a pro career.

Stay up. Stay up.

Please, just stay up.

It's what Victoria Dunlap has told herself over and over again this summer as she's gone through conditioning with her Kentucky teammates.

The players have been on the run all summer, doing 400-yard runs, 800-yard runs and the nearly vomit-inducing 20 suicides in 20 minutes.

"That is dreadful," Dunlap said recently, "but during that I would tell myself one suicide at a time and stay up. I'd either want to lay down or put my hands on my knees, but I just have to stay up."

The Kentucky team will have completed four of these suicide tests before the start of the season in November.

"I've seen people just hurt afterward," Dunlap said. "But you have to tell yourself, 'I'm about to pass out, but I have to stay up because my teammates are watching me.'"

It's not just her teammates that are watching the 6-foot-1 senior forward this year.

The reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year is popping up on pre-season national player of the year lists, and she knows she has a bull's-eye on her going into the season.

When Dunlap earned the conference's top honor as a junior, she could have just enjoyed this summer.

That could have been her comfortable summit.

But she has bigger plans.

Dunlap plans to stay up.

"I know I did well for myself last year, but I feel like there is so much more I could have done," said Dunlap, who was third in the SEC in both scoring (18.1 points) and rebounding (8.4).

"My teammates, they can't — and they won't — let me settle. ... I have to do more and raise the level."

Dunlap led the league in steals with 3.1 swipes a game and added nearly two blocks a contest.

That defensive prowess might be the thing that makes WNBA teams covet her come draft time.

It used to be a sort of a far-off dream for Dunlap to be able to play professionally. Now she said she sees it as an attainable goal.

ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck, who does both college basketball and the WNBA, says she easily could see Dunlap transition to the professional ranks as long as the forward continues to improve her outside shot and ball-handling skills.

"Her tenacity and intensity and competitive fire would all be big," Peck said. "The WNBA game has really sped up in recent years, which would make her a good fit. It also puts a real emphasis on defense now."

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said he has heard similar things from people at the next level.

"If she gets those two things (ball-handling and outside shooting) up to speed, she's going to be a nightmare" to guard, Mitchell said.

"It's clear to me that she has a chance to play at the next level and the feedback I'm getting from some WNBA people is that she could be an extremely high draft pick."

Dunlap said she's spent most of the summer working on the parts of her game that were lacking.

"My outside shot has gotten way more consistent," she said. "My ball-handling and things like that are better."

The senior confessed she's been turning to teammates like SEC Freshman of the Year A'dia Mathies for tips and pointers.

"We play pickup and she's really good at making a move and getting to the basket and I'm like, 'How do you do that?'" Dunlap relayed.

Apparently, Mathies just shrugs, to which Dunlap replies, "OK, thanks for that tip. I'll work on that in the gym."

The senior did spend much of last summer working on something that had plagued her throughout her career: free-throw shooting.

Dunlap went from a career 49.2 percent shooter to hitting nearly 70 percent from the line last season.

Dunlap will have her chance to get there plenty of times this season. She will have a target on her back.

With some players, the sort of spotlight that will follow Dunlap — along with countless double teams and physical defenders — would be too blinding.

Some players would put a lot of extra pressure on themselves this season.

Not Dunlap.

She just focuses on staying up.

"She borders on being oblivious to what's going on around her, and that's a good thing," Mitchell said. "She works so hard in practice and she gives you everything she has in games.

"That's what I love about her. She's never struck me as a person that is worried ... She is loose as she can be, but never nonchalant. She handled all of last season's accolades with tremendous humility and it didn't seem to affect her in the least."