Satou Sabally Brings an Array of Talents to Dallas
In this Prospect Spotlight series, I’m going pick by pick, profiling members of the W’s freshman class.
We started with No. 1 choice Sabrina Ionescu recently:
Now let’s take look at Ionescu’s Oregon teammate, Satou Sabally, who was taken immediately after her by the Dallas Wings. We start with how she was deployed in college, looking for clues that translate to the pros.
SABALLY STEPS UP
When Oregon set its action, Satou Sabally was typically on the weak-side low block while Sabrina Ionescu navigated a pick-and-roll at the far wing.
Sabally’s defender in the video below is no slouch: She’s a four-time WNBA All-Defensive Team selection, six-time All-Star, 2016 league MVP.
That’s Nneka Ogwumike, who has spent six seasons in the top 10 for defensive win shares. Oregon is scrimmaging against Team USA, the strongest assembly of professionals that women’s basketball has to offer:
When Lydia Giomi, the Ducks’ 6’6″ forward, breaks her screen and dives towards the basket, Sabally vacates the paint and sprints to the top of the key. Ionescu feeds her the ball.
Sabally catches in triple-threat position and, without taking a moment’s pause, goes to work. She gives a quick pump fake, enough to get Ogwumike up in her stance ever so slightly. One dribble right and Ogwumike slides with her, momentum propelling her to cut off the driving lane.
Instead, Sabally plants her right foot and pushes backward, simultaneously dribbling the ball through her legs as she crosses back beyond the 3-point line. That split second affords Sabally the time to gather and shoot.
After her belated closeout, Ogwumike turns her head in time to watch the ball drop through the basket.
That night, Oregon became only the second college program to ever knock off Team USA. Sabally—who contributed 25 points and six rebounds—could not keep a smile from her face, admitting her shock at the outcome.
“I’m staying humble,” she said in an on-court postgame interview, “and I know they’re the greatest team in the world.”
Although Ionescu was the premier name heading into the matchup, this game propelled Sabally into the national conversation.
THE GERMANY/DALLAS CONNECTION
In 1998, Satou Sabally was born in New York City. Her father, Jerreh, is from Republic of The Gambia, a small country in Western Africa. Her mother, Heike, is German.
Satou spent long periods of her childhood in places familiar to each of her parents. From the time Satou was two until she started school, she (and her six siblings) lived at Jerreh’s family compound in Gambia. From there, they moved to Germany, where she lived until being recruited by Oregon in 2017.
Satou played basketball competitively growing up and knew she one day wanted to bring her game to America.
“I began dreaming about playing in the WNBA when I learned about it at age 14,” she told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears.
Oregon offered her that opportunity.
And after the Dallas Wings selected Sabally with the second overall pick, another German basketball star immediately offered his congratulations.
Welcome @BallySatou. Dallas is a great spot to be!!! Let’s go!!
— Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) April 17, 2020
Nowitzki had long been one of Sabally’s idols. “His name in Germany is just so big,” she said.
At 13 years old, she was in a room with the 14-time NBA All-Star. She’d been part of a select group of young German hoopers that day, and now she’s on a similar path to Dirk’s. Their relationship has blossomed in the last month.
“I have a mentor now,” Sabally said in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Dorothy Gentry. “That is how I will describe him as for me.”
That mentorship goes beyond fall-away jump shots and rebounding tip drills. Nowitzki’s status as a legend in Dallas also has to do with the fact that he spent the entirety of his 21-year career in the city and has long been a staple of the community.
Sabally is eager to follow in those giant footsteps. The pair spent Mother’s Day handing out food to families in need.
Q: Having grown up in Germany, did you look up to Dirk Nowitzki? How does it feel to be playing for the same city that Dirk played his entire career for? #NBATogether
A: ???? @satou_sabally ???? @swish41 pic.twitter.com/Ygpk9CrIgU
— NBA (@NBA) May 16, 2020
BECOMING A ROLE MODEL
Sabally talked about her passion for social justice in an interview with OregonLive.com. Her own experience of growing up biracial has motivated her to push back against the bigotry she encountered.
Some players shy away from the responsibility of being a role model; Sabally looks forward to it.
She loved LeBron James’ “More Than An Athlete” campaign: the NBA superstar’s response to being told to “stick to sports” when he weighed in on inequality across the nation. She even wore a hoodie with the phrase in German ahead of the WNBA Draft.
“I really think that I still need to grow and learn a lot about race issues and equality and such because I believe that the more you know the more you can advocate for.
“But the things that I do know and the things that I am interested in, I will continue to have conversations around it, and I will raise awareness on my social media platforms, make connections to people that are really interested in it and want to make a change, and I’m going to start working with them.
She continued: “People like LeBron (James), people like Serena Williams and even (Colin) Kaepernick, they’re all just a great inspiration to my life that I would love to work with and that I want to create change with. I’m just super excited to be able to combine basketball and my passion about equality.”
View this post on Instagram
Love of Family. Love of Culture. Love of Basketball. Today I embark on a new journey, to the WNBA! It’s only right that I bring my tribe with me. I’m a child of the U.S., Gambia and Germany, and it’s so important to celebrate these origins on my biggest day. ???????????????????????? • Today I've partnered with my tribe at @Uninterrupted and @KUTULA ????????????for a capsule Mudcloth hoodie. We included the famous words of @kingjames ‘More Than An Athlete’ proudly displayed in German, with authentic African fabrics I love. Humbled and thankful on this day!
THE STATE OF THE WINGS
Much like the New York Liberty, the Dallas Wings are in the midst of a rebuild.
Last season, Rookie of the Year runner-up Arike Ogunbowale proved herself capable of taking—and making—the big shot, as she’d done throughout her collegiate career at Notre Dame. But she needs help.
Ogunbowale’s 28.8 usage rate ranked third in the W, behind only Tina Charles and Maria Vadeeva. She was sixth in minutes played, closing out the season by logging 35 or more minutes in 12 of 13 games.
Nonetheless, Ogunbowale was clearly comfortable with the heavy workload, seeing her scoring and assisting averages, as well as her field goal percentage, climb with each passing month.
At season’s end, Ogunbowale’s 19.1 ppg.—which ranked third in the W—was an impressive total. But the Wings’ 10-24 record was not.
Her 630 points accounted for nearly 26 percent of the team’s 2,434 points scored. Only two other players, Allisha Gray and Kayla Thornton, averaged double figures in scoring.
Fortunately, an influx of talent is on its way. Sabally, along with fellow rookies Bella Alarie (5th pick), Tyasha Harris (7th pick) and Luisa Geiselsöder (21st pick), are ready to compete—first for a roster spot, then for rotation minutes.
As many prospects do, Sabally saw many of her stats increase during her final collegiate season. The 6’4″ junior put up 16.2 ppg. and 6.9 rpg on 46.4 percent from the field. According to Her Hoop Stats, Sabally’s rebounding rate jumped from 9.3 percent to 11.8 to 14.1 over the course of her three NCAA seasons.
Her mark during her junior year put her just outside the top 10 percent in the nation.
Sabally’s shooting percentages actually dipped in her final season, however, perhaps due to her increased usage rate and emphasis in the offense.
Her career mark of 37.8 percent from deep is much more palatable than the 33.8 percent she put up in 2019-2020, but Dallas must be excited to get a player that can shoot from anywhere on the court.
Sabally’s athleticism can get her easy looks in space, and her ball-handling ability allows her to isolate and still get off a good attempt.
Last season, the Wings bested only the Atlanta Dream in field goal percentage, and they only topped the Phoenix Mercury and the Dream from deep. Those shooting woes contributed to a league-worst assist total, so the team is smart to surround Ogunbowale with better scoring options.
Sabally’s continued development will be paramount to that cause and for the Wings to find any success in the near future.
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.