DALLAS – Cherokee Nation citizen Chelsea Dungee is living her dream, but would admittedly like to be living more of it.
The former guard for the University of Arkansas is now playing in the WNBA after being drafted fifth overall by the Dallas Wings. Through her first 10 games, her playing time totaled 37 minutes.
“I have the ability – the skill set to play in this league,” Dungee said. “I do great in practice. But the mentality has to change. It’s hard to go from playing 40 minutes, running the show, it being about you and leading the team, to finding a new role. It can be hard to find that role sometimes. I’m in the process of that.”
Dungee is nonetheless thrilled to be playing professional basketball. Her selection in the draft was a bit higher than projected, and she didn’t have to relocate to another time zone.
“It’s still good and it’s been fun,” she said. “It’s a dream come true and something I’ve worked for my whole life. I wanted to go to Dallas because it was close to home. To be able to wake up in the morning and know you play in the WNBA – that’s your job – that will always be a blessing.”
When many athletes transition from college to pro, they cite the speed of professional play as the most difficult adjustment. Dungee said that wasn’t an issue in her case.
“The WNBA can seem faster, but I think that can also depend on which program you came from,” she said. “I played at Arkansas, which was fast-paced and we average something like 95 points a game. I don’t think you can go a whole lot faster than that. We shot the ball within 10 to 15 seconds consistently for the four years I was there. The pace hasn’t been that big for me.”
Dungee said the biggest change for her is the body contact, which isn’t policed as rigorously in the WNBA as at the college level.
“It’s the physicality,” she said. “Everyone gets away with a lot more contact. You have to be strong with the ball. You need to take strong jumpers and shoot with confidence, because everyone out there is a great player.”
As a youth, Dungee was very much aware of her Cherokee lineage, and she said it helped shape her.
“I also played softball and was on the USA softball team when I was younger,” she said. “When I was growing up in Okmulgee, I played in a lot of all-Indian basketball and softball tournaments. I also went to powwows and other events, so it was a big part of my upbringing.”
Dungee had a spectacular career for the Lady Razorbacks. As a senior, she was only the second player in program history to be named to three all-America teams. The Women's Basketball Coaches Association selected her, as did the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and she was chosen third team by the Associated Press. She was also first team all-Southeastern Conference.
While with Arkansas, Dungee appeared in 96 games and scored 1,903 points, adding 146 rebounds and 136 steals. As a senior, she shot 42% from the floor, 39% from 3-point range and 79% from the free throw line. She averaged 22.3 points a game, which was the second-best for a single season in the history of the program.
She played at Preston High School during her freshman and sophomore years before transferring to Sapulpa High School. She averaged 18.4 points per game as a senior.