Chelsea Dungee was just drafted fifth in the first round of the 2021 WNBA draft

By Lindsay Kimble
May 14, 2021 01:48 PM
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Chelsea Dungee
Chelsea Dungee
| Credit: Jim Cowsert/NBAE via Getty

Chelsea Dungee's dream is coming true — and she's so grateful for those who helped turn her aspirations into reality.

The rookie WNBA player — who will kick off her first season in the league on Friday night when her Dallas Wings play the Los Angeles Sparks — tells PEOPLE she's "excited" to get the game underway.

"To actually be in the WNBA is just ... I don't even know if it's shocked, but ... it's crazy because it's just a long dream and you've made it to the highest level possible," says the 24-year-old.

Dungee says she was around six or seven when her mom, social worker Chi Dungee, first introduced her to basketball, a former player herself. Her skills were undeniable — in eighth grade, Dungee was offered an athletic scholarship to Oklahoma State University. It was then, the Oklahoma native tells PEOPLE, that it "hit" her: "I really have the potential. This is something that I want to do. I've made my mind up. I'm 100% in. This is it. There's no plan B."

Dungee's mom raised her as a single parent, never missing a home game, she recounts. "She made a lot of sacrifices. She gave up her dreams so that I could live out mine. Taking off work to come to games, having to do sponsors all the time to help me," the athlete explains.

"A lot of times, she could be doing other things to help benefit herself and help her grow, but she didn't," explains Dungee. "She took me to the gym. She worked out with me, ran with me, conditioned with me. Always cooked for me when I got home. Just everything. She did everything. It seems like a sacrifice in every way. But to her when I say thank you for everything, she was like, 'It wasn't a sacrifice. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to do that for you. I wanted to do all those things.' "

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Chelsea Dungee
Chelsea Dungee
| Credit: Jim Cowsert/NBAE via Getty

It paid off, and after a year playing at Oklahoma, Dungee transferred and spent the last four years of her college career with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Ahead of the WNBA draft this year, Dungee says she "kind of knew" she'd be selected in the first round but wasn't sure when. Mock drafts led her to believe she wouldn't be picked higher than seventh, but she was still "really excited."

"And then I see my name at five, and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh. That's me,' " she says. "I almost couldn't believe it. I was just so excited. I wanted to come to Dallas. Of all the teams, I wanted to come here."

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Dungee tells PEOPLE she's adjusting well to Texas, as her Amateur Athletic Union basketball team was based out of San Antonio. Training with her new team has been fun, she says, and she's trying to soak up as much information as possible as she adjusts to the different level of play. Overall, she admits, she came into her home "comfortable," already connected on social media with many of her teammates.

Now, as the WNBA starts its landmark 25th season, Dungee is reflecting on the amazing strides women's sports have made.

"We have a long ways to go, but with the 25th season, it's awesome to be a part of a legacy," she tells PEOPLE. "There's players that we watched growing up, and you idolize those players. You want to grow up and be just like that player. So it's just amazing, and I can't wait to play against people I grew up watching. Now you're playing in the same league. I think it's amazing. Happy that I get to be a part of the 25th season and beyond."