Less than 24 hours after one of the worst moments of her basketball career on the biggest stage in college sports, Arike Ogunbowale was able to look past it. College basketball’s most famous clutch-shot maker missed a free throw that could’ve sent her Notre Dame team into overtime in the NCAA tournament championship game. Baylor ultimately won, 82-81.
“I really wasn’t depressed,” Ogunbowale told SB Nation. “It’s a shot. It happened. Of course I was disappointed and sad. But I wasn’t going to let myself get down about that.”
Ogunbowale’s mindset as a relentless scorer and hard-nose winner never wavers. She’s born for the big moments and the brightest stages; for the glory and the gloom. It takes a special figure to put themselves on the line to win or lose a game in the final seconds. There’s no college basketball player in recent memory who understands that more than Ogunbowale, who rose to celebrity status after cementing herself as a Final Four legend in 2018 with back-to-back buzzer-beaters in the Final Four and championship game.
“I had a great college career,” she said. “I had a great four years. I’ve done a lot for the university, for the program, and I’m proud of that. I definitely wasn’t going to hang my head all day, and try to get a pick-me-up. I was fine. It’s a tough situation, but I was definitely OK.”
Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey called her “one of the greatest to ever play” in the postgame handshake line. Her head coach, Muffet McGraw, assured Ogunbowale that the loss wasn’t on her shoulders, saying “a game never comes down to one shot.” Kobe Bryant sent her a DM saying, “I hope you’re not hanging your head. You had a great career.”
It was all appreciated and helpful in the moment, but Ogunbowale sees the bigger picture. That’s her personality, no matter the stage.
Ogunbowale didn’t have much time to wallow even if she wanted to. A whirlwind of a week saw her hit a career-low and lifetime high in the same 72 hours. On Wednesday night, she was the No. 5 pick in the WNBA Draft and is headed to the Dallas Wings.
The morning after the Fighting Irish fell to the Baylor Bears, the team flew back to South Bend from Tampa Bay. Ogunbowale did laundry, found time to talk to her teammate, Jackie Young, who had 24 hours to decide if she wanted to forego her final season of school to enter the draft, and packed her bags all over again. She caught a 6:30 a.m. plane on Tuesday to New York City, endured a full day of league-related meetings, ate dinner with the other 11 standout prospects invited to attend the draft festivities, and then, one “sleep” later, it was draft day.
For some, that would have understandably been a nightmare. Another two days worth of media on little rest in the aftermath of a brutal high-stakes error would be overwhelming. But Ogunbowale is too confident in her athletic talent to let self-doubt creep in; she’s already thinking about her next big moment.
This isn’t to say Ogunbowale is emotionless or robotic. After she missed the free throw on Sunday and shook hands with the Bears players and coaching staff, everything hit her. On her way to the locker room, she burst out in tears, locking arms with Sharla Lewis, Notre Dame’s special events coordinator.
Arike Ogunbowale wipes away tears as she walks off the floor.
After being the hero in this game one year ago, Ogunbowale missed a free throw with under 2 seconds to play that could have sent the title game into OT. pic.twitter.com/UrKB6MgNbN
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 8, 2019
She buried her face in her jersey, but her tears weren’t solely because of the outcome of her final game in an Irish uniform. She’d just spoken to one of her biggest fans, older brother Dare, a training camp football player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I think when I saw my brother, he hugged me and said he’s super proud of me and my career, and that this was just one little thing and that everything’s fine. Hearing his voice and that he was proud of me made me emotional.”
Fast-forward three days, and Ogunbowale couldn’t relate to a few of her colleagues who were overly-anxious in the hours leading up to the draft.
“A lot of people were stressed and worried,” Ogunbowale said. “But my mindset was like ‘I literally have no control over this. I’m going into this, whatever happens, happens. It’s not like I can choose where I want to go.’”
It all worked out. Ogunbowale couldn’t have asked for a better situation to start her professional career. The Wings have a vacant spot for a leading shot-taker and go-to scorer with MVP runner-up Liz Cambage on the way out via trade request and all-star point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith out due to pregnancy. The floor appears open for Ogunbowale to be Ogunbowale, and she could only grin as her name was called in NYC and Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road” blared as she made her way to the podium.
After a week of ups and downs, wins and losses, long flights and little down time, it’s that moment she says will stick out in her mind a decade from now.
“As a kid, growing up playing basketball, that’s something that you dream,” she says. “That’s somewhere where you want to be. For it to actually finally happen is surreal. It’s an amazing moment and an amazing feeling.”
Ogunbowale has a chaotic six weeks ahead before her pro career begins. She has a twice-a-week international medicine class to finish at Notre Dame in the next two weeks so she can make it to May 5 training camp in Dallas. Two weeks after that, on May 19, she’ll come back to South Bend to walk at graduation, and five days after that, she’ll fly to Atlanta to make her WNBA debut.
Ogunbowale is more than ready. The 21-points-per-game scorer is prepared to earn the respect of a new city and fanbase, and bring everyone who’s followed her along the way to cheer her on in Dallas and through WNBA League Pass.
All eyes are on her future; not the past.