HANOVER _ As a 9-year-old, Nickolette Dunbar had visions of playing in the WNBA.
Six years later, Dunbar, a Whippany Park High School freshman, still plays basketball but her future aspirations don't involve a pebble-grain orange ball.
Dunbar is most passionate about a scuffed-up, eight-pound green ball these days - the shot put.
She found great success heaving the shot put this spring, breaking records in her first few weeks of competition. Dunbar took up throwing events as a seventh grader when she gave up softball.
"I wanted to try something different," Dunbar said. "My mom wanted me to stay active. She didn't want me sitting around doing nothing. I get bored easily."
There was nothing ho-hum about Dunbar's efforts this spring. She was busy and focused, keeping herself engaged while entertaining spectators at track and field meets.
Few were familiar with Dunbar because she did not participate in winter track, opting to play basketball with her sister, Mickel, a junior. The Dunbar family moved to Hanover from Minnesota in the summer of 2012 so they were still new in town, too.
"No one knew me so they didn't expect much," Dunbar said. "I was throwing 39 or 40 feet and everyone was going 'Wow!' Some people thought I was a sophomore. They were impressed."
Karl Dunbar's job - he's the defensive line coach for the New York Jets - brought the family to New Jersey. When the Dunbars toured Whippany Park High School, athletic director Brent Kaiser called Brad Callahan, the track coach, and informed him "I've got a blue chip for you."
While in the hallway near they gym, the Dunbars noticed the track record board. They took note of the record of 37 feet established by Tammy Keenan in 1988, knowing Nickolette was already in that range. Sure enough, at the first practice, Dunbar put the shot 38 feet. Then, in her first meet, she blew the record away, hitting 40-1.
"We thought what Nickolette did was awesome," Callahan said. "We figured no one would ever beat the old record."
Dunbar, actually, was just getting started. She made a throw of 43-4 1/4 feet at the Morris County Relays. Her goal was 45 feet. She achieved that at the Morris County Championships, recording a meet-record toss of 45-3 1/4. Dunbar's best is 45-7 3/4 attained at the NJAC Small School Championships.
While getting ready to throw, Dunbar, fourth at the Meet of Champions with a 41-1, stares at something. Sometimes, it's a pebble. Other times, a house in the distance.
"That's my way of focusing," said the 5-foot-10 Dunbar, who previously attended Hidden Oaks Middle School. "I need to keep my eyes on an object. When I was throwing in Minnesota, I didn't want anybody behind me. I'd always ask them to move."
Mickel says that Nickolette remains humble in spite of her significant talents.
"Nickolette is quiet and has a soft voice," Mickel said. "She can be outgoing. Very loud and crazy, too. I'm proud of her. I hope she keeps it up. Nickolette knows she's good but won't say it. When friends ask how she's doing with track, she just says 'OK.'"
It's no surprise that Dunbar comes from an athletic family. Her brother, Karmichael, just completed his freshman year at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, where he was reshirted. Mickel plays basketball and softball. Her mother, Pam, plays tennis.
"I spent a lot of time watching my brother and sister play sports," Dunbar said. "I feel like I learned from them."
The Dunbars have moved quite a bit over the years, residing in Louisiana, Chicago, Oklahoma and Minnesota. Attending different schools doesn't bother Nickolette. She realizes it's part of being the daughter of a coach. Her favorite team, she says, is whatever one her father happens to be coaching.
"I have to do it," the youngest Dunbar said of moving. "I'm kind of used to it. I meet a lot of people. I keep in touch with friends from the places I've lived."
Her favorite subject in school is math, which she said "doesn't come easy to me." She enjoys it because "it's interesting and, once you get it, it's fine."
Callahan is excited about Dunbar's future in track and field. She recently began gliding, which means she kicks back with her left foot and the right foot snaps under. She did the 1-2 before - right foot, left foot, throw.
"Nickolette is powerful and explosive," Callahan said. "She's pretty comfortable with gliding."
In order to perfect her new technique, Dunbar arrives at school at 6:45 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to be filmed. Then, she and Callahan make the necessary fixes. Callahan said Dunbar, who trains at Thrower Nation, a track club under the direction of Anthony SanFilippo, on Sundays, possesses all of the tools to become one of the state's all-time top throwers.
"Her parents, her whole family, are big supporters," Callahan said. "Nickolette has all of the attributes and skills. Besides that, she wants to succeed."
"My coach always tells me it's me and the shotput. No one else," Dunbar said. "I don't think about anything when I'm throwing. I stay focused, relaxed and give it my all."
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