Senior guard Chelsea Dungee has been the Arkansas Razorback’s leading scorer for the last three years, since transferring, and she currently averages 21.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. This season she is on the watch lists for the Naismith Trophy, the Wooden Award and the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award. She has been the SEC player of the week twice this year, and was the ESPN and USBWA player of the week earlier this month after she paced her No. 19 Razorbacks past No. 3 Connecticut, with 37 points. Last week the crossed the 2,000-point career mark.
An Oklahoma native, Dungee lead her high school team to a state title and helped USA Basketball’s U16 team win a gold medal at the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship. The daughter of a single mother, Dungee earner a Bachelor’s Degree in communications last spring.
So you were playing with Oklahoma in 2017, and the team took on the Washington Huskies in the NCAA Tournament at their place, and you all lost. Yet it was then that you decided you wanted to play for Mike Neighbors, who was Washington’s coach at the time. What was it about the style of play he coached, or even him, that appealed to you?
Playing them really woke me up to his system. And I was watching his demeanor when things would happen during the game, good and bad. The way he structures his team, the way he runs his team, I thought that would work really well with the style that I play. Watching Kelsey Plum and the freedom that she had, and the trust they had between each other, is something I thought I would be able to do and create with him. I came on a visit here and we sat down and talked; I told him my goals, and I felt something in me – I don’t know what it was – but I believed what he was telling me. I trusted and I believed it. I didn’t commit right then because I had two other visits the next day, and I was on my way home and I was like, you know what? I’m going to call him and commit. I was on the phone with my mom and I told her, I don’t need to take another visit; I know that’s the place for me. I don’t need to see any other school – this is the school, and this is the coach I want to play for.
You were following your heart, weren’t you?
For the past two seasons, one of your assistant coaches has been one of the Huskies you played against that day, Chantel Osahor. Did that make it a full circle experience? What have you learned from working with her? It must be fun having Kelsey Plum on staff now, too.
It did. When he announced we were getting coach Chantel I was like oh wow. It brought back the memory in my head and I was thinking, my coach is about to be someone I played against. And Kelsey Plum is a great addition. Just her knowledge and her skills on and off the court is a great person to have in your corner. So I was really happy with both of those hires.
What have you learned from Osahor?
Really, more of the talking and communicating and being a leader. That hasn’t always come first in everything I’ve done. Being around her is as much about basketball skills as it is being around her and listening to her. She puts me in positions to be the leader on the floor, and I’ve embraced that and grown from that, and I think you see that from time to time in the game.
Describe what it’s like playing in the SEC.
It’s a tough conference. We have seven of the eight teams ranked in the top 25, so night after night after night you’re playing the top players in the country, the top coaches. It gets tough, and then you play 2-3 of those teams twice. You have a Missouri and a Texas A&M that always brings a different challenge in itself, trying to beat the same team twice in one season. You might meet them at the SEC tournament. It’s tough night in and night out. You better bring your best game – it’s really intense.
It’s real physical. When I watch other games I’m like, wow. I didn’t realize how physical the SEC is until I watched another conference.
Going back to your day one, how or what got you into basketball? How soon did you know that you might be good at it? When did you fall in love with it?
My mom played basketball, she introduced me to the sport. I played softball as well – I was pretty good at that too. I played both of those all the way through high school, but I was really intense in AAU from about sixth, seventh grade, and that’s where I put all my focus on basketball. She helped me get the ball rolling, and got me on some AAU teams and I played different ones. My goal in starting that was to play division I. I didn’t know where that would be or how that would look, but that was the goal. I just wanted to play the best that I could, and I wanted to play in the WNBA. I looked at them all the time and I was thinking wow, that would be amazing if it was my job to play basketball.
Who were your role models in hoops?
I love Maya Moore and I love Skylar Diggins – especially when the big head band thing came out. I love Elena Delle Donne. I just watch a lot of players and I know my game and how I play, and I watch everybody and pick up a little here and little there, make it my own.
When you were 16, your house burned down. How did your life change after that happened?
That was pretty tough because everything valuable, everything you own is in your home. There are so many things you cant replace. That brought a lot of adversity. After that I lived in a hotel for about three months, so that was different. I was in shock for a long time. My mom would take me out there every couple of days and I would just walk around and be amazed at how you have a house one day and it’s burned completely to the ground the next day.
Was it where you left with the clothes on your back?
Yes – what I had on was it. That brought a lot of challenges.
Did the strength of your mother influence you to be a stronger person?
Absolutely. Seeing my mom do everything on her own – she didn’t have a lot of support. And just showing me that you can push through those things and come out the other side a better person. I think she grew from that as well as I grew from that. Just seeing my mom sacrifice so much of herself for me, I think she instilled that in me. On the court and off the court I give everything that I have just like my mom did for me, to whatever program I’m at and to the people around me.
What have you learned from the adversity you went through?
Just to keep pushing through. Knowing that there will be better days. Just seeing things and knowing that I can get through those things and it doesn’t break me translates a lot to basketball. When you’re down, it’s a tough game or a tough situation and shots aren’t going in or things aren’t going your way, you can lay down and quit or you can keep pushing through.
We’ve overcome some big deficits. I’ll never forget we were in the SEC Tournament, down by 16 with four or five minutes to go and we shut out Texas A&M and they didn’t score another point during that final stretch. You look up with 5:16 left…..but we believed in it. I believed in it, I preached that to my team. I said you know what? We’re going to win this game; there’s enough time to win this game.
When you’re on the court, and particularly when the stakes are high, you go into a zone – and it’s pretty intense. Describe what’s going through your head and your heart in those moments.
I look over to the side and I see my coaches and I look at my teammates. We go through tough times in preseason, and I want to win for them. I tell them I don’t want to lose, we’re not going to lose this game. That’s just the mentality that I have. Every time I catch the ball at crunch time, I’m like, we’re not going to lose this game, this ball is going in the basket. That’s the best way I can explain it.
I do a lot of things. I want to make my coach proud. Winning makes me proud, it makes our coach proud and the team proud. Winning is just a lot of fun.
If you were looking at yourself as a player, what are some ways you would describe yourself? If you were a reporter like me, you would say Dungee is what and what and what?
Oh my goodness. This is the first time I’ve been asked that.
We can come back to it if you want.
Ok, let me think about that. That’s the first time I’ve been asked that.
Sure, let it marinate.
How have you been preparing to play in the WNBA this summer?
I wanted to work on quite a few different things before taking that next step. I wanted to reevaluate myself after last season and I realized where I was at, and where I want to go. Working on my body was a big step. I’ve lost about 35 pounds from last year.
How did you do it?
I’ve done a few things – I went vegetarian for quite a while, and then I moved into pescatarian. Now I’ll eat chicken sometimes, so I’m kind of pescatarian, kind of chicken, I don’t really know how to explain it. I stay away from red meat, and I eat a lot of vegetables.
Conditioning, of course we get that in practice, but I get in a lot of extra conditioning. I’ll get on the treadmill and do sprints – stuff like that.
I worked on my shot, because my percentages weren’t what I wanted them to be last year. They’re still a little bit lower than where I want them to be, so I’m continuing to work on that.
Defense, as well. I play the four, so it can be a little tough at times. So when I have an opportunity to play against guards I want to show that I have that ability. So I want to take the opportunity when it presents itself to show that I can play great defense on perimeter players.
What do you want to eventually do with your communications degree?
I’m not sure yet. I wanted to get into communications because as a kid I was really shy – really shy. So I wanted to get out of that box. I wanted to put myself in a position where I had to be a better communicator and be a better leader. So I jumped into communications with no idea about what I wanted to do afterwards. But I wanted to be able to talk in front of people and express how I was feeling. And it’s something I’m still working on. But I wanted to break out of that shell, and if anything else comes from it, that will be the most valuable and beneficial thing that I could get it to be able to communicate.
You’re really a growth-minded person who really wants to take the next steps forward. Have you always been like that?
If you could give the high school Chelsea a piece of advice, what would it be?
It would be (pause) a few things, actually. When I was in high school I kind of let a good game and a bad game kind of dictate my confidence. And now it doesn’t usually waver. I know who I am and I know what I can do, and if a shot isn’t falling, I know how to help my team in other ways. When I was in high school I thought that the only way I could help my team is to put points on the board, and I let my confidence waver a little bit. That’s one thing I would tell my high school self: know who you are and believe in what you do. You practice those things every day, you know that shot can go in; don’t lose confidence when you don’t have a game that isn’t your best.
What is something about you that most people would be surprised about?
I like to read books. I’m reading a book right now, I’m almost finished with it – I have a lot of books I’m looking at right now. And my coach just gave me a book about body language because I want to be able to read people’s body language when I speak to them.
What are you reading right now?
“Can’t Hurt Me,” by David Goggins. It’s amazing. That’s one book at the top of the list. I would tell anyone to read it; it’s amazing.
OK, so back to a few questions ago: did you ever think about how you would describe yourself? Did anything bubble up?
You get everything from me. I’m coachable. I love taking advice, I love to grow. In every opportunity, I want to grow. If you come to practices you see a lot of that. If something’s wrong, I’m going to go to the front of the line. Even if I get it right, I want to do it a few more times so it sticks with me. I’m just a player like that, and I do that in practice.