Words: Elle Clay
Photography: Ming Smith
23-year-old Chelsea Dungee has come a long way from playing on the dirt court in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where her mother and former baller, Chi Dungee, introduced her to the game. Early on, Chi helped her daughter overcome her shyness, in order to help her succeed in competitive basketball. Once in the travel league, Chelsea’s confidence was on full display and earned her a glowing reputation among reporters and fans. By the time she wrapped up her high school career, Chelsea had averaged 25ppg, won a championship and was named Gatorade’s Player of the Year for Oklahoma.
Though Chelsea began her collegiate career in her home state of Oklahoma, she began to flourish once she transferred to Arkansas. The ambidextrous, sharpshooting guard commanded the floor, earning respect and adoration from SEC fans and coaches alike. She led the nation in free throws made and was named to the All-SEC and All-American teams. When Chelsea ended her time at Arkansas, she was the all-time leading scorer in the entire history of the women’s basketball program.
Entering the WNBA draft this year, Chelsea’s stock couldn’t have been higher. Her strong mindset and relentless work ethic are undeniable, and they helped land her exactly where she wanted to be. Now, the #5 draft pick is ready to make her mark on the league with the Dallas Wings.
We spoke with Chelsea about her goals for this new chapter, her love for the game and breaking out of her shell. Welcome to the family, Chelsea.
How does it feel to be a member of the Jordan Brand family?
All I can do is just smile. It’s a dream come true. I used to wear Jordans as a kid. To know that I’m part of the family now is just amazing. I can’t even find the words for it. I’m just so thankful for the opportunity; it’s a blessing.
Your mom played basketball, and you’ve spoken about how much she sacrificed for you as a single parent. How did she foster your relationship with the game?
She’s always been there for me, and she pushed me in every way possible. She instilled a lot of discipline and work ethic in me. That’s something I’ll forever be grateful for. She’s my role model, along with many others.
My mom raised me as a single parent, so I would only get one or two pairs of shoes per year. I would always cry in the store, just begging for Jordans. Memories like that make this so surreal and so amazing.
When it comes to some of the life challenges you’ve experienced, how did you sustain such a strong mindset?
My mom showed me the way. You get up and keep working. You put one foot in front of the other, and you keep going. You wake up every day wanting to better than you were the day before. The only way to get there is to work hard, keep your mind strong, stay positive and always see the good in things.
You’ve said that you were pretty shy growing up. How did basketball help you break out of your shell?
I had goals for myself. I wanted to be a leader and a great communicator. It took a lot. I was really shy as a kid. My mom kept challenging me, over and over. She taught me what to do, how to conduct myself and how to inherit leadership qualities. Eventually, I bought into it and slowly broke out of my shell.
I got my degree in communications, so that education helped me a lot, too. It’s helped me be in front of people, from the court to the interviews after games. I feel much more comfortable now.
You have virtually every high school and college basketball honor. What would it mean for you to win a WNBA championship?
Even though we didn’t win on the biggest stage in high school and college, we still won some huge games. It would mean so much to win a championship in the WNBA because this league has the best players in the world. To compete at that level and win a championship would be amazing — another dream come true.
The SEC fans show you so much love, online and IRL. What was it like to play in a conference with such enthusiastic fans?
The SEC is tough. There are a lot of great players who come out of there every single year. I always played with so much passion, for the love of the game and for all my mom has done for me. When you give so much to something, and you play every single game with that much heart, people can’t help but cheer.
I often think about when I was sitting in the stands watching players give everything they had. You see how much that person has given to basketball. I’m so thankful for the fans and the SEC. I think that experience is really going to help me out in the WNBA.
There’s a certain swagger and confidence that comes with being a Jordan Brand athlete. How would you describe that?
There are so many feelings associated with it. It’s swag, it’s style and it’s comfort. If you look good, and you feel good, you play good. There’s just a different type of confidence when you have Jordans on your feet.
“I want to be felt in every aspect of what I do.”
Speaking of what’s on your feet, do you have any favorite Air Jordans or MJ memories?
The Air Jordan 1s are my favorite. I like the 12s a lot, but the 1s are still my favorite. I watched The Last Dance. I’d say “The Shot” is my favorite MJ moment.
The Jumpman has grown to represent more than just basketball and even sports. What does it represent to you?
It’s a lot of things. It’s unique. It represents equality. Everyone in this Brand is different. Everyone has a different style, a different personality. I embrace that. I love that. You won’t find that everywhere. This Brand represents the whole community. That’s what I’ve witnessed.
You often use the word “impact” to describe the mark you want to leave on the game and the teams you’ve been on. What do you want your impact to be going into this new chapter?
I want to be felt in every aspect of what I do. I want you to know that I’m here. I’m present. I’m going to give 110%. If you always give your best effort, you’re going to leave an impression — an impact. If you show up every single day willing to learn, get better and give your best, I think you’ll always leave an impact, no matter what.
Learn more about our WNBA family members here.