Arike Ogunbowale has lived the life of a rock star, but now she wants to get back to winning
Notre Dame sharpshooter is already thinking about repeating as national champion
At this point, it’s probably easier to ask who hasn’t heard of Arike Ogunbowale.
The rising senior guard on the Notre Dame women’s basketball team is both sports hero and pop culture darling after making two miraculous shots in the waning seconds of two down-to-the-wire games in this year’s NCAA women’s tournament. In a Final Four matchup with college sports behemoth Connecticut, the 21-year-old hit a heavily contested pull-up jumper that left just one second on the clock in overtime to take down the Huskies 91-89. Just 48 hours later, on April Fools’ Day no less, Ogunbowale did it again, this time nailing a 3-pointer as the clock expired to lift the Fighting Irish over Mississippi State, 61-58.
Since then, Ogunbowale has lived the life of a rock star. Kobe Bryant, her favorite basketball player, gave her two jerseys (one for her dog) on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. People want to rename — not name — their children after her, and others think she could’ve added a much-needed spark to the following night’s men’s national championship game. On April 13 it was announced that she’d be the first active NCAA athlete to compete on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.
After just two weeks, Ogunbowale is quite possibly the most talked-about Notre Dame athlete since Joe Montana and Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.
But outside of all the confetti and jubilation, Ogunbowale, like her Black Mamba mentor, just wants to get back to winning. Speaking with The Undefeated, she says she is already thinking about repeating (no non-Connecticut team has done that since 2008) and she hopes that this year’s tournament proves once and for all the women can be just as exciting as the men. And, yes, she’s well-aware of Geno Auriemma’s tweet.
What’s been the highlight of the last week?
Winning the national championship. That’s why I came to this university, to be able to compete for a national title and to finally have one of those trophies in our possession. That’s just a blessing.
With the women’s national championship game objectively overshadowing the men’s final this season, what more needs to be done for sports fans to learn more about women’s basketball?
I mean, just because it’s an exciting game and I think we showed that in the Final Four, we had two games go into overtime. The third game [in the Sweet 16 against Texas A&M] went into the last second. I think all of our games were exciting. That competition is really high in women’s basketball and a lot of teams are on an even playing field, which makes for better games.
When you read about basketball players, you normally learn that on a lot of occasions their fathers were the ones who taught them the game. For you, your mom was one of your first coaches. What was that like?
She was my coach in first grade because I played for the school; she was a teacher at and the coach there. She coached me on those teams, and then as I got older my dad became one of the coaches on one of my AAU teams, and then he kind of took over that role. But they’ve both been there, they both give me advice, they both tell me what to do. They’ve both been strong presences in my basketball career.
What’s the main difference in their coaching styles?
My dad is a little bit more laid-back, but he gets to the point. I think my mom’s a little bit more emotional with it; if I lose a game, she feels like she lost a game. She really takes it passionately, and my dad is too, but he’s more of ‘I’ll give you advice’ type and tell you what you did wrong.
Which parent can claim credit for your late-game antics as far as game-winning shots?
Both of them. They both tell me about the same things.
Has Kobe Bryant given you any advice after meeting him?
I haven’t talked to him since the Ellen show, but we talked a lot about basketball and different things. But nothing super specific.
— Arike Ogunbowale (@Arike_O) April 6, 2018
After Bryant followed you on Twitter, you joked that “Now that Kobe follows me, any time I tweet or retweet something I think to myself, ‘I wonder if Kobe wants to see this on his timeline.’ ” Have you stopped yourself from tweeting anything since that day?
No, that was just a funny tweet. [Laughs.] That hasn’t really stopped me from doing much.
How does it feel to be a player of African descent playing on such a big stage in America?
It’s good that we have a lot of athletes out here representing Nigeria. There’s a lot of Nigerians in basketball, actually. So basketball has really shown that there are some good athletes out there.
Is it frustrating that people struggle to pronounce your last name?
No, it’s not frustrating. I mean, some people can’t pronounce things, but I don’t know, I guess they are going to have to try.
No, you’re just going to have to try to say my name. I don’t have any nicknames.
After the national championship game, a story came up that back in 2014 while you were still in high school, you tweeted out the final five schools you were considering [Louisville, Notre Dame, Ohio State, UCLA, Wisconsin] and 14 minutes later Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma tweeted, “Stay tuned for my list of 5 players I saw the past 7 days that I have zero interest in recruiting … #whatajoke.” Did that have any effect on you during the Final Four game against Connecticut?
On July 13, 2014 at 6:06 pm, Arike Ogunbowale tweeted her final five colleges she was considering. UCONN was not included on her list. 14 minutes later, Geno Auriemma tweeted. Arike gets the last laugh. pic.twitter.com/RGH6RIUJ5S
— Travis Wilson (@travisWSN) March 31, 2018
I mean, he did recruit me, so. But I don’t really care what other people say, so it really had no effect on me. I don’t really care.
Were you aware of the tweet before last month’s game?
That happened four years ago before I committed, so I saw it four years ago. I saw after that people resurfaced it or screenshot it, but that doesn’t really affect me much.
Outside of another national championship, what’s your main goal for yourself next season?
That’s the main goal: to do it again. That’s why I came here. That’s really my main goal.
This interview has been edited and condensed.