Arike Ogunbowale does not just want the next one. She will now.
“It’s dope. It’s great in a league where there are so many great players – like players who have been seen growing up and seen in college – to be considered one of the best players in the future, it’s important , ”Says the 24-year-old Dallas Wings guard.
“I can be the future [of the League] but I am also using my time right now and not wasting time, ”she continues. “I want to be one of the best players now and in the future.”
And she is willing to do whatever it takes to be the best – on and off the basketball court – in everything she does.
WSLAM 1 featuring Arike Ogunbowale, Diamond DeShields and Betnijah Laney is OUT NOW!
Take, for example, a recently toasty 95-degree Sunday afternoon in Dallas. Inside the Singing Hills Recreation Center is Ogunbowale, just two weeks after winning WNBA All-Star MVP honors and returning from vacation.
Hair pulled back in a long ponytail and wearing a white Nike headband, she stands with a basketball in the corner of the large, empty gym. She’s there on her day off for a photo shoot for Red Bull.
There’s Arike dribbling with both hands. There is Arike spinning the ball, first on one hand, then on one finger. There’s Arike shooting the ball and showing his handles. Arike is posing. She laughs. She smiles, the wide, toothy laugh we have all gotten used to, and chats with the camera crew.
Dressed in a white T-shirt, blue shorts, black tights, white Nike socks and orange, black and white Nikes, she confidently walks down the gym floor near a basketball hoop. She chats with her trainer, Melvin Sanders of the SandersFit Performance Center in downtown Dallas, before he starts sending the ball to her. She effortlessly puts up a bucket. Then another. And another. She hits 10 just before she misses.
There’s no one but me, a handful of Red Bull staff, Arike and her coach. But she’s just as focused as if she were in the College Park Center, where the wings play their home games. She usually acts, but when you see her up close and alone on the court, you can see how she is one with the ball, how shooting curves are second nature. She is always working on her craft, always trying to get better, always trying to improve, even taking a photoshoot seriously. And it is this work ethic, cruelty and determination that in just three short years has driven her to become one of the undisputed faces of the WNBA.
You just knew she would be.
You knew it when she led her Notre Dame team to the 2018 National Championships on a last-second shot.
You knew it when she passed second Irish alum Skylar Diggins-Smith to become Notre Dame’s leading scorer of all time.
You knew it when her name was called No. 5 overall in the 2019 WNBA draft.
You just knew the 5-8 bucket shovel would take the league by storm. And in a way, she did, too.
“I have great confidence in myself. So I knew what I was bringing to Dallas, I would definitely help the team. Whatever it was, off the field, on the field, ”she shares with WSLAM. “I knew I wanted to help the team, but I could and did get noticed in Dallas.”
And throughout the league.
And what a name.
She was a unanimous All-Rookie pick and WNBA Rookie of the Year runner-up after finishing third in the league in scoring (19.1 ppg) and leading her team in scoring. With a total of 630 points (third in league history in rookie points), she tied Maya Moore’s record of 30 or more points in four straight games.
Last year, Ogunbowale-admiring legendary players Seimone Augustus, Lisa Leslie, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi won the WNBA scoring title (22.8 ppg) and recorded four 30-point fights in back-to-back years.
This year, a few games back in the regular season, she is averaging 18.8 ppg and is in the process of reaching her career best in three-point and free-throw shooting. She was also named the All-Star MVP in her first All-Star Gajme after losing 26 points.
“I want to be one of the best players now and in the future.”
– Arike Ogunbowale
But it is not only on the pitch where Arike makes her name known. Recently, she joined some big names, including Kevin Durant, Elena Delle Donne and Kelley O’Hara, as investors in Just Women’s Sports, a growing media platform.
“When you get more into the league, you will have a long life and will start investing in things,” she says. “What better way to start investing than in women’s sports? I’m involved in women’s sports. That’s what I do. If I have daughters, that’s what I want them to do, and I just want to inspire young children. ”
“This really puts my money where my mouth is, lifts women and everything they do, so why not invest in them and help them grow? It was really important to me. ”
Ogunbowale, who has signed with Nike and most recently partnered with Red Bull, also has his hand in uplifting young people. She recently worked with the Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation to give away clothes and other equipment to young girls.
“I have many things in store. Whatever I do, I certainly try to make young girls and our society the focal point. That’s what I’m big on. ”
Get your copy of the first female issue of SLAM!
She is also big on basketball, and getting into the playoffs remains her top priority; something she has yet to experience after a 10-24 end to her rookie year; 8-14 in the shortened wubble season 2020, and currently 10-13 this season, a match out of the playoffs.
“I’m good. I’m locked in and getting ready for the second part of the season,” she replies with brand confidence when asked about her current state of mind.
And she must be.
While there are other talented veterans on the wings, including Olympic gold medalist Allisha Gray, defensive stalwart Kayla Thornton and Isabelle Harrison, it is Ogunbowale who is the face of the franchise and the leader of the team. She has been since she was drafted and named as the starting point guard in the absence of Diggins-Smith. How challenging has it been for her to step into the leadership role and help put the wings in the best possible position to succeed?
“I do not want to say challenging, it’s just a process, especially with the fact that I was young myself,” she explains. “I already had to be more of a leader, even in year one, when I was the starting point guard. I’m not even done with year three and I’m already considered a leader and that’s just who I am and what I’m adding to this team.
“To be a top player, you also have to lead, so I think I grow in it and learn, and it’s still a process, too. I’m not the best leader yet, ”she admits. “But I’m definitely working on it. And it helps to have teammates and coaches who trust you, trust what you say; believe in you as a leader. It certainly lifts my confidence too. ”
Wings teammates Harrsion and Bella Alarie, who have played alongside Ogunbowale for three and two years respectively, have seen their teammate’s growth and development and see no limits to her rise to the top of the league.
“My favorite thing about Arike is how talented she is, but still has a listening ear,” Harrison says. “Even when she came here her first year, she was our leader. Arike was the person we had to give the ball to at the end of the match, so she rose a lot. This is her third year now, I think she’s just getting more and more comfortable in her role, as far as being vocal, leading the pitch, encouraging people and sticking to a standard defensively. She wants to grow. I do not know if people see it about Arike. She wants to grow and she wants to be better.
“So any Arike slander, I do not listen to it. I do not care who it comes from, ”says Harrison laughing, but also very seriously. “That girl wants to be better. And I love it about her. She’s just so humble. She puts herself on the next level. She can only go up. She pushes herself to be good. ”
Alarie calls Ogunbowale, “a great player, playmaker and extremely confident. And that’s something I look up to her for. She is not afraid to take the last second shots that make or break the game. I really admire that. ”
“The way she has grown for herself has done a great job of carrying us with her,” she continues. “I really love playing with her. She brings a great attitude to the court. She plays hard and she only gets better. ”
One area that Ogunbowale is striving to improve on is reading defensive schemes that other teams are throwing at her as they try to make it harder for Lumberjacks to score.
“Everyone knows I can score, but every night it’s a different defense. The hardest thing is to be able to adapt each match to different defenses, because teams throw different things at me, ”she says. “Being able to adjust and read the right plays – you know, if I get caught, I have to swing it fast – just to be able to get up on these things faster.”
There is no doubt that she will improve defensively and in any other way she wants. Ogunbowale has that kind of will, dedication and focus – much of it comes from her family, which she calls the source of her inspiration and motivation, and which she connects with every day. “My support system is really big and keeps me determined.”
What also keeps her going is her competitive nature and her desire to take her team further than they have ever gone.
“I am locked up. We have some important matches. We need these wins to get this playoff push. I’m really locked in right now. ”
Portraits by Raven B. Varona. Follow Ravie B. on Instagram, @ravieb.
Action Images via Getty Images.