By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
The Dallas Wings’ season ended Sept. 23 when the team lost in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. Dallas lost to the Chicago Sky 64-81 in the best of five series held on the same court that determined the season’s champions.
The Chicago Sky went on to claim the WNBA championship trophy Oct. 17 after defeating the Phoenix Mercury. The 80 to 74 win at Wintrust Arena in Chicago earned the Sky their first WNBA title.
Despite criticism of the Dallas Wings by the media for their lack of experience and young squad, the franchise proved everyone wrong by just breaking into the playoffs. The series between the two squads marks the first playoff appearance for the Dallas Wings since 2018.
Dallas Wings Head Coach Vickie Johnson, in her rookie season as head coach, is proud of her team, despite coming up short. Johnson has been in the league for 25 years, both as a player and coach.
This year marks that WNBA’s 25th anniversary.
According to Johnson, being part of the Dallas Wings organization rings very high on her list.
“The reason being is because I come from an organization, three organizations, and [Dallas] is my fourth stop. In New York and in San Antonio, we were a family, and to come here and build a family. It was huge to build a relationship for each and every one of our players on a personal level, it was huge for me because it is bigger than basketball. This is bigger than basketball, it is about life and being able to prepare for life and being able to face any challenge and what it takes to work. You know what it takes to sacrifice, and I think that is what I love about my team,” Johnson said.
Chicago Sky head coach James Wade praised Johnson after the Sept. 23 game. “They [Dallas Wings] do not need any advice from me,” Wade stated after the Wings lost to the Sky on Sept. 23. “They have one of the greatest and most underrated players to ever play the game in coach Vickie Johnson, and she knows basketball, she knows the game and she is going to steer them in the right way. All they have to do is listen to her. Her mind is enough, and I like what she has done to this team and where they come from. I appreciate her getting another opportunity, and I think she is going to do well. I don’t have anything for them, but I am always going to be in Vickie Johnson’s corner.”
Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale, a veteran player on the Wings team, summarized the organization’s season and what they need to do next year to advance further into the playoffs.
“We have a really young team, and we don’t have a lot of vets on our team, but I will be a fourth-year player, Marina will be a fourth-year player, Satou is going to be a third-year player and we touched the playoffs, so that is enough experience,” Ogunbowale said. “We still have Izzy and so we touched this. So we have players that have been in the playoffs and now they know what it takes, so that is really good for us next year.”
In the 2020 season, the Wings did not make the playoffs. That season was limited due to the pandemic, and the playoffs were limited and played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and was known as the WNBA Wubble due to efforts to limit COVID-19 exposure.
However, this season, the playoffs were played like a normal WNBA playoff schedule and even though the Wings made it to the playoffs they did not win.
When asked what the determining factor to elevate herself and the team to the next level, Ogunbowale had this response.
“Just growing like we did this past season,” she said. “We grew a lot, people might be overseas, people might be playing, working on your game, watching film, working and seeing what you really weren’t good at and work on that in the offseason, that is personally what I do so just doing that type of thing and everybody focusing on individual commitments to get better and whenever we get back with each other, during training camp, the level just rises and we just got to push each other.”
Ogunbowale explained what was the best thing that happened to the 2021 Dallas Wings team.
“Clinching the playoffs, especially at home,” she said. “We had chances to do it and we dropped games, like after Olympic break games, that we shouldn’t have dropped, that were really close such as really clinching playoffs on our own and and even last year, if we would have clinched the playoffs it would be because of somebody had lost, and that we would have to bank on other people. But this season, we didn’t have to do anything with anybody else, but just because what we have to do in the season we had won and got ourselves into the playoffs and I thought that was really big for this team.”
Ogunbowale realized that even though the team lost and was eliminated from the playoffs this season, she is blessed to be able to play a game she loves.
“It is a game at the end of the day, and it is basketball,” she said. Win or lose, you are getting paid to do this. We are living a great life and you are blessed. Obviously. I am hurt when I lose, so sad, you got to think about it, let it ponder but I just remind myself that I am blessed to be in this position. The playoff berth was not handed to us. This loss was not handed to us. We had to go get it and we are a young team and it is a lot of upside even a lot of games we lost, we really could of won, a decent amount of games, we beat ourselves over people beating us, obviously that sucks at times, but looking at it now, and looking back, those are winnable games and I think it is going to be a whole different story for next year, but we just have to look at it like that.”
Dallas Wings President and CEO Greg Bibb said despite the loss in the playoffs, the team is right on track.
“When I think about the 2021 season, I deem it a big step forward for us,” Bibb said. “We accomplished our primary goal of making the playoffs and I really think we are ahead of schedule in terms of our rebuild plan. When you consider that the entire coaching staff, including head coach Vickie Johnson was new and three of our players, a quarter of the roster were rookies, half of our roster had two or few years of WNBA experience and we still found a way into the playoffs, we got a taste of what the playoffs are about and we used this year as a stepping stone for 2022 and beyond.”
“I think when you looked at how our players reacted to the end of the season in Chicago, I know Vickie mentioned in her postgame media game comments, that everyone was really disappointed. And you could tell that there is belief in that locker room that we have the core group to go beyond where we ended up this year. I believe that too. When I look at the roster that we have assembled in the last two to three years, I am really excited about our talent level and our upside and when you look at some of the business elements of that perspective we have.”
Bibb concluded that the primary goal for the season was accomplished, which is to make it to the playoffs.
“So we got that experience, we know what it feels like and we can build upon that in ‘22 and beyond,” he said. “I think if you look at it in the macro sense of that, that was our primary goal. I think we are ahead of schedule or right on schedule and I think we are transitioning now from a 100% build mode to win now mode. From going 100% to roster build to playoff mode.”
Other notable recent accomplishments for the Dallas Wings include center Charli Collier was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team, and Ogunbowale was named to the WNBA All-Second Team.