Dallas Has Wiiings: How Arike Ogunbowale shoots the lights out and on

Dallas Has Wiiings: How Arike Ogunbowale shoots the lights out and on

Since being drafted No. 5 overall by the Dallas Wings in 2019, no player has scored more points in the WNBA than Arike Ogunbowale (1,958). Kelsey Mitchell, a ridiculous bucket-getter for the Indiana Fever, ranks second in that time frame (1,727) — a 231-point gap despite playing four more games than Ogunbowale.

At her best, Ogunbowale is a terror for defenses. She's one of the quickest guards in the league, equipped with a shifty handle and a quick trigger that she can get off whenever she wants. For a prime example, look no further than her 37-point effort against the Phoenix Mercury earlier this season.

The range of buckets is insane, frankly. Transition drives. Floaters. Fading jumpers.

But focus on the threes for a bit. Ogunbowale can drill spot-ups, contested or otherwise. She can flow and pull off movement. Self-created threes are another night at the office for her.

Ogunbowale has drilled 219 threes in her young career, only second to Mitchell (242) during this stretch. That three-point prowess adds a layer for defenses to think about. She can absolutely light it up when she gets going. 

She can light it up off the court too.

Ogunbowale recently partnered with Red Bull to kick-start a program called "Dallas Has Wiiings."

(What a play on words, am I right?)

With the initiative, Ogunbowale and Red Bull are donating up to $50,000 to the Dallas Park and Recreation Department to go toward solar-powered lighting systems in Dallas. With every three-pointer Ogunbowale makes this season, $800 will be donated.

To celebrate the launch of the initiative, the Wings star took shots at a basket designed and built on a temporary court overlooking the Reunion Tower. Ogunbowale was tasked with knocking down 10 triples, each one turning on a light until the tower was completely lit.

Ogunbowale recently spoke with to talk about the event, the initiative and her season to this point. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)

I've only seen the social clip of the event, so I need honesty — did you go 10-for-10 on those threes to turn on the Reunion Tower lights?

Arike Ogunbowale: "I did not (laughs). I wish, but it was a lot. The depth perception — like, I'm looking at the freeway in the back. We were outside, so there was wind. The court was a little slanted, but we made it work. It looked good though! That's all that matters."

What was the inspiration behind the "Dallas Has Wiiings" initiative?

Ogunbowale: "I just wanted to do something for the community so I'm able to give back. My Dallas fans come from all over to watch me. They come to the games every night, support me on social media — all of that. I see all of that, so I wanted to find a way to support the community."

Where did this interest originally come from? Was court lighting an issue during your childhood?

Ogunbowale: "Yeah. Growing up, you play outside a lot. Well, I don't know about kids nowadays; now they're in the house on their iPads. But used to be outside a lot with all the kids in my neighborhood, playing sports or just doing whatever.

"But the lights would go out, or there wouldn't be any lights. Or the street lights would come on and it'd be time to go inside. So we want there to be places that kids can play after-hours, where it's still safe and they're able to play the sports they love."

What has the response been from the Wings organization? Have teammates offered to help moving forard?

Ogunbowale: "Well, this specific event was a one-time thing. The only way they can help now is by passing me the ball so I can shoot more threes and donate some money (laughs). But overall, they think this initiative is a great idea. They've definitely supported me, and they'll keep feeding me, hopefully."

If you're able to share, what's next for you in this journey?

Ogunbowale: "It shifts to the regular season for me, now. Every three-pointer I make, [Red Bull] donates money up to $50,000. So, the work I have to put in right now is knocking down threes so we can get to the $50K mark and donate all that money. At the end of the season, we'll see the courts and pinpoint what we want to do next. I'll make some visits in the offseason to see how and where everything's going. But right now, my job is to hit threes."

While we're on the subject of threes, you've never bombed away quite like this! You're second in The W in threes attempted (8.1) and fourth in makes (2.6) per game. Your three-point rate (percentage of total shots coming from three) is the highest of your career. Where is the bump coming from?

Ogunbowale: "I would say it starts with me practicing more threes over the offseason, and getting more comfortable with them. Some of it is dictated by defenses. They're packing the paint a lot, a lot of help-side — stuff like that.

"(I) wouldn't say it's settling — well, sometimes it's a settle — but those shots are open and available for me. I've been shooting them decently, though obviously I can get a lot better. But I think [the rise in three-point attempts] is a mix of that and our team's tactics."

Has head coach Vickie Johnson had to pull you aside and say something like, "Hey, we don't need this three" or do you have a total green light?

Ogunbowale: "She definitely coaches you! There are, obviously, shots that I shouldn't take sometimes. Just in the flow of the game, one or two shots where it's clear, 'That was a bad shot.' But it's never been, 'I don't want you to shoot threes.' She never discourages that. She knows that I'm going to try to make the best decision I can. But if it's a bad shot, it's a bad shot; it's not limited to threes."

On the flip side, roughly 10% of your shots are coming inside of 3 feet, and you haven't gotten to the free-throw line as much (career-low free throw rate) to start the season. How do you balance pulling up from deep or taking what the defense gives you, and putting pressure on the rim and getting to the line?

Ogunbowale: "I think I need to be a little more aggressive. Having the defense on its heels more, driving to the basket. I get a lot of eyes when I drive to the basket — like I said, I get a lot of help-side. But I have to learn how to navigate through that and figure out how to get to the line more. They're free shots! I definitely have to be more aggressive and get into the paint; I think 10% [of my shots coming at the rim] is too low."

When we talked in 2020, you mentioned wanting to become more of a threat off the ball. With that in mind, how much have you enjoyed playing alongside *this* version of Marina Mabrey?

Ogunbowale: "She's been amazing. Her at the 1 is lethal; she can shoot it (career-high 42.6% from three on 4.9 attempts), so defenses have to respect that. That spreads the floor out more. They double her a lot too — trapping her to get the ball out of her hands. Playing with a playmaker and scorer like that is definitely fun."

I'm still trying to get a feel for the Wings. Sometimes you're a bigger group, while other times you'll downsize and have someone like Satou Sabally start at the 5. What would you say is the vision of this team? 

Ogunbowale: "I would just say 'positionless.' We'll just go out with the best five players on the court, whether that includes a smaller post player, or a smaller forward or a bigger guard. Whatever it is, whatever fits, that's what we're going to go with. 

"I don't think we've been stuck on roles — like you have to have a 5, you have to have a 4, you have to have a 3, a 2, a 1. Because really, Marina is a combo guard running the 1. And KT (Kayla Thornton) is really a 3 playing the 4. So really, it's whatever fits or helps our team win."

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