After a stellar career at Notre Dame, where she led the Irish to a National Championship as a junior and to the runner-up spot as a senior, Arike Ogunbowale was drafted by the Dallas Wings in April with the No. 5 pick.
Since then, the 22-year-old guard has become the WNBA’s top-scoring rookie, with 255 total points. She is also the Wings’ leading scorer, averaging 14.2 points per game, and their assists leader, dishing 2.4 per outing, in an efficient 28.9 minutes. This is despite the fact that she has taken over the point guard position for the first time, as the team copes with personnel absences and lineup changes.
Ogunbowale has scored in double-digits all but five games, and has put up 20-plus points – including a career-high 25 last month – five times. She was named Rookie of the Month for June.
What have you learned since you got to the Dallas Wings until now?
Just getting comfortable to the system and honestly, to the league in general. It’s much more physical, and you’ve got to use counter-moves. Because people watch film, they study you and they know what you like to do. So definitely counter-moves, and picking and choosing when I need to shoot, when I need to roll, when I need to pass. I’m trying to mentally mature, especially in taking on the point guard position, which I didn’t play at all in college. It’s a lot different, but I’m getting a little more comfortable now.
So you feel like you have to change your strategies every few games because people have watched film on you?
I wouldn’t say I’ve had to change my strategy, but I have to be prepared for what people might do. I approach every game with the same mindset and the way I play, but I know that the defenders are a lot better, a lot more smart. Even beyond defensive – players are a lot smarter. I’m guarding players who have been in the league 10-plus years, so they know exactly what to do, and they know exactly where to get you so you can get screened and picked. I have to get up to pace with that.
So you’ve really got to be mental about it.
Oh yeah, it’s a lot mental. It’s not like the game is too fast for me, because at Notre Dame, we played really fast. But it’s just that people are more mature and are really smart, so they can move as slow as possible and still get their shot off, because they know exactly what they want to do.
How did playing at Notre Dame prepare you for the professional level?
The coaches teach us like pros, whether it’s practices or games. They’re so mental – Coach McGraw, Niele, Beth and C.O. – they know exactly what to do. I think going there was my best decision, because I felt pro ready when I got here, physicality and game-wise. They really helped me with that.
Is there anyone on your team now, in particular, who has helped you?
I think everybody tries to pitch in. Sky (Diggins-Smith) when she talks to me she tells me a lot of stuff because she’s a point guard, and I’m new to this. She gives me little insights to look at and is helping me to change my game a little bit, to help fit the point guard position and mentality. Also Tayler (Hill) – she’s a guard as well – and she definitely helps me a lot too.
Now you’re being thrown into the rookie of the year conversation. What does that mean to you?
That’s big, but I’m focused on getting wins right now, and on producing and helping the team as much as I can.
What are you working on right now to improve your game?
I have the ball a lot and I have to shoot a lot, so I’m trying to get my (shooting) percentage up. It fluctuates a lot and that just comes with learning. I don’t want to focus on numbers, but I’m picking and choosing when I need to pass and trying to be as efficient as possible.
You’ve been through your share of the highs and lows in basketball this year, from losing the National Championship game to getting drafted, to having your worst shooting night and then having your best. How do you rebound from some of the lows?
I talk to my brother a lot –
Yeah, Dare. He really helps me with everything: before the game, after the game, he talks to me. His words of advice, that’s probably my biggest thing is talking to him. That’s a big reason why I can get over humps like that.
He’s older than you?
Yeah, he’s three years older. He played basketball but then he switched to football. He plays in the NFL, for Tampa Bay.
That’s awesome. It helps to have another athlete to talk to, to really understand.
Definitely. And he understands me more than anybody, so it’s perfect.
What do you like about the city of Dallas?
I like the city and I’ve met a lot of cool people – some that I’ve really been able to connect with. It’s hot, and hotter than the Midwest. My AC is always on blast. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I take a jacket, because they think they need to have it negative-something in there.
Everybody on the team has a role, like hype woman or grandmama. What would you say your role is besides “rookie”?
I think they want me to score, to try to facilitate and get to the basket and make things happen.
You won for pretty much all of your Notre Dame career, and now you’re on a team that doesn’t win that much. What’s that like for you?
It definitely was a lot different at first, but it comes with learning. There will be ups and downs and it’s a whole different system – a whole different league. It’s rough right now, but I’m keeping my spirits high. I’m able to play the game I love, and that’s a blessing. We’ve just got to try to keep getting better every game.
I’m told you have the longest warm up routine of anyone on the team. What goes into it?
When people go to chapel I just stay out here. I need to get as warm as possible because we don’t come out until 15 minutes before (tipoff), so I just need to get and stay as warm as possible and get in a lot of shots that I’ll have to take in the game.
Are you superstitious?
I am sometimes – a lot of times. I was more superstitious in college, so I made it a thing for myself, I was like, “please do not carry this into the league or you’ll drive yourself crazy.” I dropped a whole bunch of things after I got here, but I keep up some stuff (laughing).
How were you able to do that?
My thing was, that was something that I had to do there, but this is something totally different; it’s not connected. So you start new habits; that’s what I tried to do.
What do you do for fun?
Lay down and watch Netflix. That’s about it; that’s the only thing I can do.
The travel schedule is tough, I know. Hats off to you for dealing with airports.
Yeah, I went from private planes to coach, you know, all that. But it’s alright. It’s part of the process.