Catching up with former Notre Dame hoops star Arike Ogunbowale

By Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

Three former Notre Dame women’s basketball players are about to represent the U.S. in the Olympic Games, and yet the No. 1 scorer in program history — the same one who remains the only individual in NCAA Tournament annals ever to hit game-winning, final-second shots in both rounds of the same Final Four, the one who is the WNBA’s defending scoring champ and the one fresh off MVP honors in the WNBA All-Star game — is not among them.

► More:Former Notre Dame star Arike Ogunbowale earns WNBA scoring title

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“I don’t focus on that at all,” Arike Ogunbowale said Friday afternoon by phone when asked whether she should’ve made the team.

Team WNBA's Arike Ogunbowale plays against the United States a WNBA All-Star basketball game, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

“I honestly had no feeling about it,” she insisted on not being chosen. “I was invited to the (trial) camp, and after that, it was, whatever happens, happens. I’ve learned that I can’t get stuck on things I have no control over. I’m just going to do what I do.”

What Ogunbowale, 24, has done so far in her young pro career has been a glistening follow-up to a lustrous, All-American Irish career.

In 2019, after being drafted with the fifth overall pick by the Dallas Wings, she was the WNBA Rookie of the Year runner-up to Olympian Napheesa Collier. Ogunbowale ranked third in the league in scoring at 19.1 points per game.

Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale handles the ball against the Los Angeles Sparks in Arlington, Texas, on Aug. 14.

In 2020, she captured the WNBA scoring title at 22.8 points an outing.

This season, Ogunbowale is averaging 18.9 points. She’s on pace for career bests in 3-point and free throw accuracy at 36.8 and 88.8%.

Most recently came those game MVP honors in that All-Star contest on July 14 in Las Vegas, one in which she and Team WNBA beat none other than the Olympians themselves, 93-85. Ogunbowale poured in 26 points — nobody else on either side scored more than 18. She drained 10-of-18 shots from the field, including 5-of-10 from distance.

She scored nine points over the final 5:37, starting with a four-point play on a step-back, left-wing trey and opposition foul to put her side up six.

“I was just excited that it was my first all-star game,” Ogunbowale said. “It’s not often you share the court with a bunch of Hall of Famers, legends really. My goal was just to take in the day and enjoy the experience.”

There was no mission, she says, to prove anything to herself or to others in light of the Olympic selections.

At the same time, she didn’t surprise herself, either.

“I’m always blessed, but never surprised,” Ogunbowale said of what she achieves on a basketball court.

For now, the WNBA is on hiatus from games until Aug. 15 due to the Olympics.

Ogunbowale says “I’m definitely going to be watching” the Tokyo Games on TV.

The rosters, after all, will be full of familiar faces, including WNBA opponents like fellow ex-ND stars Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jewell Loyd, as well as, in the case of the 3-on-3 version of basketball, ex-Irish teammate Jackie Young.

“I think 3-on-3 is dope (as in cool),” Ogunobwale said of the Olympics incorporating the half-court style of game for the first time. “I played 3-on-3 for three or four years (for USA Basketball, winning three gold medals and one silver in international events from 2013 to 2015). I love 3-on-3. It’s dope. I’m glad it’s getting recognition.”

Asked if trying to make an Olympic team will be a priority going forward, Ogunbowale referenced how far off her next chance seems.

“I mean, that’s 2024, so you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “My main focus is making the playoffs.”

Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale (24) reacts to hitting a shot during the fourth quarter of the NCAA Women's Final Four championship game against the Mississippi State at Nationwide Arena on March 30, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. 
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Dallas has not done that yet with Ogunbowale aboard.

The Wings went 10-24 in her rookie season, tied for the second-worst mark in the league, but have improved in each of the following two years, finishing 8-14 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season and standing 9-12 this season, one game back of the eighth and final playoff spot with 11 games to go.

Ogunbowale is joined by close friend and ex-ND teammate Marina Mabrey (13.9) as the team’s top two scorers. Dallas’ record this season has come despite its third and fourth-leading scorers missing a combined 11 games.

“For sure we’re putting the pieces together,” Ogunbowale said. “We’re still not where we need to be and where we’re going, but we have a high ceiling. It won’t happen overnight, but we’ll get there.”

Helping out

On Friday, Ogunbowale was spending time with about two-dozen unsuspecting young girls at an Indianapolis YMCA via a live video feed.

Children in attendance received gifts of personal sports equipment through a program created by The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation.

Girls in eight “under-resourced communities” around the country are benefiting from the program this summer, with pro female athletes participating virtually at the various stops.

A goal of the initiative is to keep girls playing sports. According to foundation materials, girls quit sports by age 14 at twice the rate of boys.

“I’ve heard that stat,” Ogunbowale said. “It’s hard when things are male-dominated, but I think we as players can help with that narrative that women can be successful, and it doesn’t have to be sports.”

Bucking a trend

A native of Milwaukee, Ogunbowale said she got a kick out of her hometown Bucks winning their first NBA title in 50 years earlier this week.

“I went to Bradley Center games a lot growing up,” Ogunbowale said of the team’s former home arena that was demolished in 2019, a year after being replaced by the Fiserv Forum.

“They’d practically give games away,” Ogunbowale said with a laugh while mentioning a promotion available to youngsters then and contrasting it to ticket demand now.

“Honestly, I was able to go whenever I wanted,” Ogunbowale said, referring to her dad being a Milwaukee school principal, “and they’d let us play on the court for five minutes at halftime.” Ogunbowale called the scenes during The Finals, with estimates of 60,000 fans outside the arena, “crazy.”

“It’s great to see how far it’s come and to see the city excited like that,” Ogunbowale said. “I wish I could’ve been there, but it was great to see from afar.”