Arike Ogunbowale is a rarity in American sport.
She’s a female college athlete, and she’s a celebrity. Girls, boys, women and men stop her on the street and ask, “Are you the player who hit that shot?”
Yes, she answers.
She is the young woman who hit the off-balance, heavily guarded, NCAA- title winning 20-footer that conquered Mississippi State and propelled her Notre Dame Fighting Irish to national supremacy. Two days earlier, she defeated UConn’s mighty Huskies with another last-second, long-range shot.
Her life since the shots has been a happy blur. She sat down with Kobe Bryant, her basketball hero, for a chat on the Ellen DeGeneres talk show. She will compete on the upcoming “Dancing With the Stars” alongside Tonya Harding, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jennie Finch Daigle. Her first “Dancing” show will be April 30.
“I’m living it up right now,” Arike says “I know it’s going to die down sometime soon, but I’m just living it up right now.”
She brought the Arike party this weekend to Colorado Springs, where it looked as if her unlikely string of triumph would continue. Arike competed in the national 3 on 3 tournament at the Olympic Training Center, and her team battled all the way to the semis.
Don’t know much about 3 on 3 basketball? You’ll know more soon. The intensely rapid 3 on 3 version of the game will be part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The ball was in her hands on her team’s final possession, and the script called for yet another a game-winning shot from the long range.
Ah, but even Arike can’t win them all. She passed to a teammate, who missed a shot as a trip to the finals fizzled away.
Still, despite Sunday’s frustration, these are sweet days for Arike. She will return to Notre Dame next season to push the Fighting Irish toward a repeat, but no matter what happens in her basketball - and dancing - future, she always will enjoy the blessing of knowing she surprised a few million fans, and herself, by sinking an incredibly important and incredibly difficult shot.
Arike has long practiced a fade-away jumper from the corner. She works on the shot at most Notre Dame practices. She works on the shot when she’s alone at the gym. It’s a Kobe-type shot, a shot launched only in the late seconds of the shot clock or the desperate final ticks of a game.
“I shoot it for fun,” Arike says. “But I’d never shot one in a game.”
She had little choice against Mississippi State. The clock was ticking down when she grabbed an inbounds pass and dribbled to the corner. It was time to see if all those practice shots could produce victory.
The shot dropped, inspiring fans all over America to shake their heads in disbelief. Arike isn’t insulted by the millions who struggled to believe what saw on their TV screens.
She was as surprised as anyone.
“Definitely,” she says, laughing. “Yes, 100 percent. I thought something went wrong. I thought maybe I didn’t get it off in time or I traveled or something. I thought, ‘There’s no way that just counted and that just happened.’”
As she danced in joy after Notre Dame’s unlikely victory, she became America’s basketball queen.
She is perceptive. Celebrity can be as fleeting as a fantastic sunset. Her moment won’t linger for long. But she’s also perceptive enough to savor every moment of the glow.
And she will always, no matter what, own that wild, wonderful shot from the corner.