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Chelsea Dungee recaptures glory of trophies lost in fire with ultimate accomplishment of going pro

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Chelsea Dungee has taken a winding road from being an eighth-grade superstar to becoming a first-round WNBA Draft pick with transfers in both high school and college. She brought aggressiveness and stellar play every step of the way.

WNBA Draft 2021
Chelsea Dungee was the No. 5 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft.
Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser /NBAE via Getty Images

Chelsea Dungee faced a great deal of adversity as a teenager. She committed to Oklahoma State when she was just 14, but switched to Oklahoma after Cowgirls head coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna died in a plane crash. Dungee’s house then burned down when she was 17, forcing her to move from Okmulgee, Okla. to Sapulpa, Okla.

Dungee emerged from the tragedy and misfortune with strength, going on to become a great player at Sapulpa High School after spending two months living at a hotel. Her mom, Chi, who helped the free throw phenom develop her physical style of play by wearing football pads when playing one-on-one with her at an early age, helped her get through the difficult stretch.

Dungee said the following in a 2017 article on Oklahoma’s athletics website:

I didn’t think I could get any closer to my mom, but when bad things happen you tend to attach to people and I attached to my mom even more. ... We kind of latched on to each other and just made the best of every situation.

Dungee’s prolific scoring numbers in college didn't come until she transferred to Arkansas, but the free throw shooting was always there. She shot 81.1 percent from the stripe as a freshman at Oklahoma, averaged 7.4 points and made the Big 12 All-Freshman Team. She then averaged 20.5, 16.9 and 22.3 points, respectively, in her three years with the Razorbacks.

As an Arkansas senior, Dungee scored in double figures in every game and scored 20-plus 18 times. She eclipsed 30 points in four contests, notching 37 in the Razorbacks’ biggest win of the year over UConn on Jan. 28. Arkansas was the only team to beat the mighty Huskies in the regular season.

Dungee was projected to be the No. 10 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft by both Swish Appeal and ESPN. Instead, she went at No. 5 to the Dallas Wings, owners of the No. 1 and No. 2 picks, which they used on Charli Collier of Texas and Awak Kuier of Finland, respectively.

“It was an unbelievable feeling,” Dungee said of hearing her named called early. “I worked my whole entire life for this moment, for this day, for this feeling. I feel on top of the world right now, I feel amazing.”

Dungee is a pure scorer who has the potential to light up the scoreboard for a Dallas team that already has reigning WNBA scoring champ Arike Ogunbowale.

“I think that I have the ability score the basketball from everywhere on the floor,” Dungee said. “I can shoot the three consistently. You’ll see more of my mid-range game, I’ve always had it. I didn’t get to showcase it as much in college. And getting to the basket, getting fouls, getting under the defense. I think I can contribute in all those ways.”

“And Arike, I love watching Arike play. She plays with so much passion, energy, intensity. And I can’t wait to learn from her.”

Dungee also believes having played at Arkansas under Mike Neighbors will give her an edge at the next level.

”In Coach Neighbors’ system the speed that we play at I think is a huge factor and it’s gonna really really help me transition into the WNBA,” she said. “And the style of play that we play, you know there’s a lot of ball screens and playing out of screens and there’s a lot of that in the WNBA. I think those two things are really gonna help me transition.”

Watch out for the Wings if Dungee does make a quick transition. In addition to Ogunbowale, Collier and Kuier, they also have 2020’s No. 2 pick Satou Sabally and this year’s No. 13 pick in Dana Evans of Louisville, who fell further than expected and is also a phenomenal scorer. The Wings have a great young core to work with in 2021.

But before anything is placed in the win column, Dungee is likely going to savor what it feels like to get drafted at No. 5 and to a team close to home no less.

“Anything is possible,” she said. “I came from a small town. Being so close to Oklahoma and to Arkansas means so much to me. I’m so happy that Dallas picked me. I can’t even describe the feeling. ... Don’t set limits and barriers on yourself.”

“I’ve had so much support since the day that I stepped on (Arkansas’) campus until now and I know that will carry on through the WNBA. My mom’s never missed a home game. I’m only about three and a half hours from her and about five from Arkansas so it couldn’t be a better situation.”