When Divine Savior Holy Angels junior Arike Ogunbowale is on the basketball court, she’s in the zone.
The student section of the opposing team often will chant things like “U-S-A” or “overrated” to try to get under her skin.
“It’s pretty funny, but it doesn’t matter to me,” she said. “I don’t really hear them.”
She’s just in the zone.
Last year, she averaged 20.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.1 steals per game, setting single-season school records for points and rebounds. She was named the Associated Press and Gatorade Wisconsin Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the 2012-13 season after being the first freshman to win the Greater Metro Conference Player of the Year award. She was also selected to play for the USA U16 Women’s National team over the summer.
But when she’s at DSHA, Arike, whose favorite class is gender studies, enjoys the challenges of being a student.
“At school, they teach us girls to have the power to be leaders, outspoken, so when we get our jobs in the outside world we have confidence,” she said, adding they’re taught “to be leaders, communicators, believers and critical thinkers.”
Throughout the year, DSHA offers various service opportunities in order to give students a chance to help those less fortunate.
“That’s probably taught me the most,” she said.
So far she’s participated in college prep tutoring and food drives for various local organizations organized through the school. She’s maintained a 3.49 GPA and has served in student government, according to a May 2013 press release announcing her selection as the Gatorade Player of the Year.
These kinds of values and experiences are what the Ogunbowale family intended for their daughter, the youngest of three and only girl.
“We didn’t send her to DSHA for basketball; we sent her there for the values and the academics,” Greg Ogunbowale, her father a Milwaukee Public Schools principal, said. “They’ve been able to show her how humanity can be good. She’s a disciplined girl.”
Greg Ogunbowale was born in Nigeria, where he spent much of his childhood before coming to the United States more than 20 years ago. As a child, he attended Catholic schools.
“I was baptized, confirmed, everything. I was an altar boy,” he said, adding his father was the church organist. “(Catholic education) teaches you how to pray … it teaches you the values; you have to be Christ-like. Respect each other. Respect adults. Love one another as you love yourself. Forgive people.”
Greg had no idea his daughter was going to be good at basketball.
“I wasn’t a basketball person; my wife played basketball,” he said. “I know she’s taken her talents from her mother.”
When Arike was young she would go to school with her mother, Yolanda, a teacher and coach at a Milwaukee Public School, and play with fourth and fifth graders.
“By the time she was in the first grade we knew she had some skills,” Greg said, adding she played on teams with older boys.
Arike said the experience made her tougher and helped her deal with the pressure that would come later in her playing career.
When it came to deciding which high school to attend, Greg said Arike was set on DSHA.
One of her two older brothers, Dare Ogunbowale, went to Marquette University High School, and is now a member of the UW – Madison football team. After seeing his experience at MUHS, he said Arike’s decision was easy.
“My daughter said she’s going to DSHA,” Greg said.
Once at DSHA, she continued to develop her basketball skills.
When she was selected to be a part of the USA U16 Women’s National Team, she knew she would be around a different caliber of players.
“It was exciting,” she said. “Practice was intense.”
USA Basketball, according to its website, is a non-profit organization and the national governing body of men and women’s basketball in the United States. It is responsible for selecting and training USA teams for competition in events sponsored by the International Basketball Federation.
She said she enjoyed playing against players from other countries, but the team easily won every game. She added that she is confident about her own skills since joining the team.
“Compared to other girls my age, I know I’m right up there,” she said.
Scott Witt, head basketball coach at DSHA, has been coaching at the school for 10 years.
“She’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime talent for a coach,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen a player as gifted offensively as she is. Not only at DSHA, but I would venture to say perhaps in Wisconsin state history.”
Witt said Arike is a good, unselfish teammate who is interested in the team’s success.
“You can tell she derives a lot of satisfaction from assists,” Witt said. “You can tell she enjoys being part of the team.”
Witt also pointed out that many of the girls on the team work hard and are focused on being great basketball players.
“The awesome part, aside from working with the awesome families and the driven girls … you have a lot more players to work with simply because the Catholic feeder system continues to give girls an opportunity to participate in the sport,” Witt said. “That’s where we have a huge advantage over the public schools … we have so many players and athletes to choose from; that’s very exciting.”
Before each game, Witt said the team has a moment of prayer and reflection.
“The coaches step out of the room and we give them some private time,” he said. “We try to have our players exhibit positive behaviors, not only in games but in practices.”
He said he reinforces a “culture of positivity” and the values that DSHA is teaching.
“I’d like to think that by the look and feel of our team that you would be able to tell we’re representing their religious institution,” Witt said.
He realizes that each player works hard to win every game within the context of the rules.
“You want to be fierce competitors, but you want to be good sports,” he said.
As of Jan. 28, DSHA had a record of 10-3 overall and is on top of the Greater Metro Conference at 5-1, tied with two other schools.
Managing a budding basketball career with high school could be difficult, admitted Arike, but she doesn’t have to go far to find someone who knows exactly what she’s experiencing. Her cousin, Diamond Stone, who plays basketball for Dominican High School, Whitefish Bay, was selected to the USA U16 Men’s National Team.
She said the two of them joke with each other about basketball, but if they played one-on-one, and Stone wasn’t allowed to dunk or post-up (he stands at 6’10” and she’s at 5’9”), she predicted she could beat him.
“We’ve played one-on-one a couple of times,” she said. “I lost, but it was only by one point.”
She added there’s a little trash talking going on during those games but “it’s all fun.”
Being on the national team has allowed her to travel to Mexico and Indonesia to compete. But all games aside, education takes priority over extra-curricular activities.
While she was in Indonesia she missed some classes because of the schedule.
“She took some work with her and she had to do some extra work when she got back,” Greg said.
Education has always been a key foundation for the Ogunbowale family. In fact, they’ve recently turned her cell phone off to keep it from distracting her studies for the ACT.
“Academia is number one and we’ve been preaching that since they were little,” Greg said. “She knows that if she doesn’t do well in school we’re going to yank all this basketball.”
When asked about his feelings on Catholic education, Greg said, “I love Catholic education. I went through Catholic education. Catholic education formed my early life.”
Greg said his daughter is becoming a fine young woman because of the education she’s receiving at DSHA.
“She’s getting a great education,” he said. “She’s getting an all-around education.”
After high school, Arike said she plans on going to college. She’s been recruited by more than 20 schools, including Wisconsin, Marquette, Michigan, De Paul and Notre Dame, but currently is only seriously considering 11 of them. She plans to make her decision after the season.