Chelsea Dungee is an American basketball player widely touted to be one of the most coveted draft picks during the 2021 WNBA draft. Dungee established herself as a high-ranked basketball prospect during her time with the Arkansas Razorbacks. She racked up her best numbers during her final season with the team.
She averaged 22.2 points per game, led the nation in free throws made, and became highest point scorer ever for the Razorbacks, with 2120 career points. Her monstrous final season earned her a Third Team All-American selection, the first from Arkansas since Shameka Christon featured on the Third Team in 2004.
This piece will look at Chelsea Dungee’s mom, her young life, and her career-defining move to Arkansas.
Chelsea and her mom Chi lived in a hotel for about 3 months after their house burned down
Chelsea was born on 11th May 1997 in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. She was raised by her single mom Chi Dungee in Oklahoma. Reports indicate that Chelsea’s dad passed away when she was young.
Chi’s didn’t earn a lot of money working as a social worker. A lot of the time, she could only afford takeout without desert. “My mom looked for free things to do, like ride bikes or jog,” Chelsea told OZY. Chelsea and Chi bonded in the family’s ‘trophy room’, which contained every trophy, pin, framed photo, and precious memory from Chelsea’s young career.
Unfortunately, everything from that room and the rest of the house burned to ashes on 1st November 2014. Chelsea and Chi were at a basketball game when an electrical fire razed their house. It ruined all the memories from a promising young career, and worst of all left Chi and Chelsea without a home and extra clothing.
“I didn’t know what to think except that it was sad because each little, bitty [piece of memorabilia] had a special meaning to me, and all of that was taken away,” Chelsea told ESPN. Without the means to rapidly rebuild, Chi and Chelsea spent the 2014 holiday season living in a hotel. After the turn of the year, however, Chi decided to rent a house 30 minutes north of Sapulpa, Oklahoma.
“I told Chelsea, ‘Our [keepsakes] are gone,” Chi told ESPN. “But the experiences she had traveling around the country, playing basketball… those could not be taken away.” The entire ordeal, though heartbreaking, taught Chelsea important life lessons. Via the determination she saw in her mom, Chelsea learned not to give up, even when the odds seem stacked against her. Chelsea told Women’s Hoops World:
“Seeing my mom do everything on her own – she didn’t have a lot of support. And just showing me that you can push through those things and come out the other side a better person. On the court and off the court I give everything that I have just like my mom did for me, to whatever program I’m at and to the people around me.”
Chelsea played softball and basketball as youngster but opted for basketball because she wanted to play in the WNBA
Chelsea’s mom introduced Chelsea to basketball as she was a former player. Dungee also played softball, and she was quite good at it. She played both sports through high school but eventually opted to put all her effort into basketball. Chelsea’s ultimate dream was to play in the WNBA. She told Women’s Hoops World:
“My goal in starting was to play division 1. I didn’t know where that would be or how that would look, but that was the goal. I just wanted to play the best I could, and I wanted to play in the WNBA. I looked at them all the time and I was thinking wow, that would be amazing if it was my job to play basketball.”
Chelsea’s role models were players like Skylar Diggins and Delle Donne. She watched them, not to ape their style of play but to pick up little things that would help improve her game. “I watch everybody and pick up a little here and little there, make it my own,” she said.
Dungee showed exceptional promise as a high school basketball player, but she suffered from a weak mentality. The way she played hinged on how the game was panning out. If the team played a good game, her confidence was high, and if things went wrong, her confidence tanked. She told Women’s Hoops World:
“When I was in high school I thought that the only way I could help my team is to put points on the board, and I let my confidence waver a little bit. That’s one thing I would tell my high school self: know who you are and believe in what you do. You practice those things every day, you know that shot can go in; don’t lose confidence when you don’t have a game that isn’t your best.”
Chelsea’s move to Arkansas unleashed the potential everybody knew she possessed
After high school, Chelsea committed to Oklahoma. She had a decent first season with the team, but the team’s style of play didn’t suit her. It was an open secret that she would move on after her first season, but nobody knew, including Chelsea, where she would end up.
Chelsea decided to play under coach Mike Neighbors after Oklahoma played against Neighbors-led Washington in her last game for the team. Dungee loved how Mike structured his team and the freedom he gave to his best players. Chelsea confirmed the move to Arkansas after learning of Mike’s move from Washington to Arkansas.
She had planned to visit other schools, but she canceled those visits and committed to Arkansas. Transfer rules dictated that Chelsea had to sit out a season. She used the time to get fit, learn Mike’s plays, and work on her Communications degree. Chelsea talked to Women’s Hoops World about her decision to pursue communications:
“So I jumped into communications with no idea about what I wanted to do afterwards. But I wanted to be able to talk in front of people and express how I was feeling. And it’s something I’m still working on. But I wanted to break out of that shell, and if anything else comes from it, that will be the most valuable and beneficial thing that I could get it to be able to communicate.”
The player that lined up for Arkansas a year after her move wasn’t the same player that left Oklahoma. She was leaner, meaner, hungrier, and behind her, she had a coach able to get the best out of her. Mike Neighbors freed Chelsea from the shackles of calculated plays and strict positioning, releasing her to become a points-scoring machine.
Pundits worried that Mike had created a player he couldn’t control, but the results showed method in Mike’s perceived madness. With every game played and point scored, Chelsea raised her stock. Former college and pro coach Carolyn Peck summarized Chelsea’s strengths in an interview with OZY:
“She’s really strong going to her left and her right, and she has a perimeter game, but I think the other thing she has that makes her a WNBA prospect is she has mental toughness, she’s a competitor. She has a tenacity and perseverance. The emergence of Arkansas has a lot to do with her; she didn’t get frustrated with having to build a program.”