EDWARDSVILLE — What seemed so far away not that long ago is drawing near for Edwardsville senior Kortney Dunbar.
A Class 4A first team all-state selection and one of the leaders of an Edwardsville basketball team which finished 28-2 during the 2013-14 season, Dunbar will soon start her life as a University of Tennessee Volunteer.
"I feel like I'm ready for Tennessee," Dunbar said. "In watching their style of play, I feel like I fit right in. It's a fast pace and it's more physical. This off-season I've been working out a lot, I've been lifting (weights) a lot.
"Coming in, I feel like they need some 3-point shooters and I think I'll be able to fill that role."
For the past four years and more specifically this past year, the 6-foot-2 Dunbar filled many roles for an Edwardsville program which has been one of the most successful in the Midwest.
Called upon to take carry more of the Tigers' scoring and rebounding load after All-American Emmonnie Henderson graduated and moved on to the University of Louisville, Dunbar averaged 16.9 points and a career-best 10.7 rebounds per game as Edwardsville raced through another undefeated Southwestern Conference season.
The Belleville News-Democrat Class 3A-4A Player of the Year, Dunbar and teammate Aaliyah Covington also quieted the Tigers' detractors who felt Edwardsville would come back to the pack a bit with Henderson gone.
It didn't happen.
"It was a good year. Starting undefeated with five seniors who trusted each other, we showed that we had players who could step up,'' Dunbar said. "Aaliyah (Covington) and I were the only ones with a lot of experience coming back and I think a lot of people wondered if our other teammates would commit to us.
"We had three other seniors and how they stepped into their roles and played so well contributed to our success. We were able to make a name for ourselves.''
Edwardsville did more than make a name for itself during the 2013-14 season.
Led by Dunbar and Covington, the Tigers posted their fifth straight undefeated SWC season and won Class 4A regional and sectional titles, before losing to (Chicago Heights) Marian at the Bloomington Super-Sectional.
"Aaliyah and I, as seniors, wanted to continue on what the program had done. We wanted to remain that top team, we wanted to stay undefeated and we wanted to go undefeated in the (Southwestern) conference all four years,'' Dunbar said. "We did those things. Like I said it was a good year."
The season was also one in which Dunbar became a more complete player.
One of the state's top perimeter shooters, Dunbar made 58 3-point field goals and shot better than 35 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
But using her size advantage and strength in the post area more than ever, Dunbar also was one of the top rebounders in the St. Louis area.
"I really tried to pick up my rebounding game. Coach (Lori) Blade even mentioned to me that since we lost Emmonnie (Henderson) from last year, that we really needed someone to pick up the slack on the boards,'' Dunbar said. "With me with a lot of mismatches with smaller guards, I was down low a lot and so I tried to rebound a lot more.
"I just wanted to focus on more than just scoring and trying to help my team in other ways.''
When Dunbar was having a rare off-night, the first one to notice was Blade, who for obvious reasons often times expected more out of the talented Dunbar.
"Was coach tougher on me? Yes and no. I think maybe mentally she wanted me to be stronger. If I was having a tough night and struggling she could tell, because I would have my head down or was tough on myself during a time-out,'' Dunbar said. "At practice, she wanted me to be a leader. She wanted me to be a role model for some of the younger players. I think that with me signing with Tennessee, that she was trying to prepare me for the next level.
"Coach Blade is one of the best coaches around. Anybody who plays for her and is around much realizes it. I appreciate what she has done to make me a better player and a better person.''
Needless to say, Dunbar is excited about playing for one of the most successful programs in women's college basketball history at Tennessee.
The Volunteers reached the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 last month, but were defeated by Maryland.
Dunbar plans to work a basketball camp at Tennessee in June, then will start summer school July 3 --which also happens to be her 18th birthday.
"At one time it seemed so far away, but now that it's getting closer and I've been to some games, met the players and coaches, I'm getting a lot more prepared for it mentally,'' Dunbar said.
Dunbar plans on majoring in sports management and hopes to attend law school.