TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Dare Ogunbowale could only watch helplessly from the stands. His sister, Arike Ogunbowale, saw her first free throw attempt circle the rim and bounce out with 1.9 seconds left, dashing Notre Dame’s hopes of overtime and a repeat in the NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship in 2019.
She was the darling of the tournament the previous year in 2018, hitting buzzer-beaters in the semifinal against UConn and the final against Mississippi State. But in the cruelest twist of fate, her one miss was the difference in an 82-81 loss to Baylor -- the final game of her college career.
She sought comfort in the arms of the one person who could handle the weight of the moment, a moment so suffocating that it felt like all air had been let out of the building: her big brother and biggest fan, Dare, whose four simple words moved her to tears.
"He told me, 'I’m proud of you,'" Arike said. “I think it’s really special coming from someone you care about, who loves you and supports and follows you your whole life and sees all the things you’ve done in your life. For a chapter in my life to close -- college basketball -- just hearing that, that was special.”
Dare added, “It got to both of us. We were both real, real beat up about it.”
Now a star guard for the WNBA's Dallas Wings and a top contender for WNBA Rookie of the Year, Arike longs to be there for Dare on Thursday in the Bucs’ fourth preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. It's his final opportunity to prove that he belongs on the Bucs’ 53-man roster.
But Arike's support will have to come in the form of a text message or Facetime because the Wings play the Chicago Sky that night in Chicago.
“That’s so unfortunate. I wish I was [able to go],” said Arike, who tied a franchise rookie record last week with her 12th 20-point game. “I haven’t been able to see him play in the NFL yet just because of my schedule. I was in school for a couple years. So hopefully I’ll be able to catch a game this year.
“I see the articles a lot, and obviously, I talk to him really every day,” she said. “He’ll show me clips of some of his training camp practices and stuff like that, so I definitely get to see a lot of stuff.”
By all accounts, he has performed well enough in preseason and training camp to not only earn a spot on the 53-man roster but also win the third-down back job. But it’s a numbers game. Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones essentially have the first two spots locked up, and Andre Ellington has the benefit of having played in head coach Bruce Arians’ system with the Arizona Cardinals.
Dare knows all too well what it feels like to be the odd man out, having been cut seven times by three teams (he’s on his fifth stint with the Bucs) since he entered the league in 2017 as an undrafted free agent.
“He’s made a real strong case,” Arians said.
“It’s night [and] day from last year,” Barber said. “Just being able to finish runs, his route running is second to none. I feel he has some of the best routes in the NFL. I’m just looking forward to what’s to come for him. We were both undrafted. I’m definitely happy with the success he’s having.”
“I’ve definitely gained confidence,” said Dare, who credits soccer and experience playing cornerback for helping him with his route running. “Obviously, throughout the years, you get more experience in the position, and also I’ve put on my weight, so it’s been beneficial for me being able to run between the tackles.”
It has shown up in games. He has scored two rushing touchdowns this preseason, tied for third-most in the NFL. When Jones suffered a knee injury, Arians said Ogunbowale “earned the right” to get Jones’ first- and second-team reps.
“He deserves it. I know he deserves it,” Arike said. “I think he’s putting the world on notice about his skill set and what he has to offer and give to a team. I would just be super happy for him, super proud for him. He’s worked for this.”
She wants nothing more than to be able to support her brother the same way he has supported her all these years, whether it be in difficult moments such as the national championship game or stressing to her the importance of taking care of her body through the lack of a break going from college to pro.
“It’s amazing to have somebody like him,” Arike said. “Obviously, I have my family -- my older brother and my parents -- but somebody like him, who has been through a lot of this, he knows exactly what goes into being an athlete. And just having him in my corner, he’s one of my biggest support systems. I look to him for any advice, basketball, non-basketball. He’s really one of my best friends, and for him to be my big brother as well as my family is a blessing.”
Dare says she has already provided plenty of support and inspiration to him over the years.
“She might not even know it in the moment about how much I needed to talk to her, but there’s been many, many times that I’ve just called her or shot her a text, just had some laughs,” Dare said. “There’s never been anything as public as her free throw was … but [there have been times where] ‘Man, I need to talk to talk to my sister right now,’ and [I] just pick up the phone.”
Arike has also taught him the importance of competing -- with yourself and others -- something their parents reinforced through their love of sports. Their father, Gregory, was a competitive soccer player, and their mother, Yolanda, was a softball pitcher at DePaul.
“[Arike] listened to me more than she listened to my parents. So my dad would make sure I kept her head [on straight] and kept her hungry,” Dare said. “And I didn’t really need to do anything because she’s so competitive and such a hard worker. I really just had to drive her to the gym and stuff like that.”
“She refuses to be second at anything, and that’s what I’ve learned to embody with myself. She’s just an extreme competitor and doesn’t like to lose, and she’ll be mad,” he said. "Even when it’s not losing, if she feels like she doesn’t hit her own standard, she’ll just be mad, and she’ll get in the gym. She’s been that way since high school.”
Dare has been to two of Arike's professional games so far and has followed her games through WNBA League Pass. Friends send him screenshots and stats from games he isn't able to watch. That will likely happen Thursday in the locker room.
“Me and Rojo [Ronald Jones], when we’re in the hotel, he’ll always see me watching her games on my iPad … It’s not hard to keep track. I’ve got homies who still keep me updated,” Dare said with a chuckle.
All jokes aside, Arike wants him and everyone else to know that she’s one proud sister.
“He didn’t even get a scholarship. He walked on to Wisconsin. Me? I’ve always, I guess, been one of the top players in my class, so, like, I’ve always had a really nice path. His has been up and down,” Arike said.
“But for him to end up at the highest level, after having to go through so much -- being cut by a team, being traded, all that stuff, being picked up by a team -- for him to be doing so well, he just stuck with it, and I think that’s super admirable.”