Arike Ogunbowale found herself in a tense situation in early March, living in Russia amid the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The 25-year-old was playing with WBC Dynamo Kursk, her overseas team since 2020, when the military conflict began. She says those closest to her in the United States quickly urged her to come home.
“Everybody is texting me like, ‘You need to get out,'” Ogunbowale tells Kelley O’Hara on the latest episode of The Players’ Pod. “Where I am in Kursk, it was pretty close to the border. Stuff is going on in the air every night.”
Eventually, Ogunbowale was able to leave Russia, right as the war was escalating.
Brittney Griner, who competed for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, has been detained in the country since late February after being arrested on suspicion of carrying hashish oil in her luggage. Many have voiced their concerns for the Phoenix Mercury star, including U.S. government officials and the WNBA commissioner.
“We continue to be working diligently on bringing Brittney Griner home,” Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said during the WNBA Draft. “This is an unimaginable situation for BG to be in. She continues to have our full support. She’s just been such a great person in the league that I can’t be any more real about the situation she’s in.”
Ogunbowale says her Russian teammates continue to compete “as if nothing is going on,” and she worries about the disinformation they’re hearing regarding the invasion.
“I just feel like there is a lot of news that is not getting fed to them that they really should know,” Ogunbowale tells O’Hara. “Listening to the conversations of what they were thinking is going on, rather than what is actually going on, is night and day, so that’s kind of sad that they’re not getting the right information of actually what is going on and what they’re doing.”
Ogunbowale has not decided whether she will return overseas to play next WNBA offseason. After signing a three-year, supermax contract to remain with the Dallas Wings through 2025, Ogunbowale sees a future where more opportunities keep her stateside in the winter.
“I think the biggest part is just building my brand more, because at the end of the day, the WNBA is four or five months and we are overseas for like seven months, and obviously there isn’t a lot of visibility over there,” she says. “Plus women’s sports is excelling right now, so it’s a great time to build your brand and be here and be visible.”
Listen to the latest episode of The Players Pod for more on Ogunbowale’s basketball career and experience playing abroad.