Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Together again: Ramirez, Dungee should flourish in Razorbacks’ backcourt
Guards Chelsea Dungee (LEFT) and Amber Ramirez wait their turn to talk to the media Wednesday Oct. 9, 2019 at the Arkansas Basketball Performance Center.
FAYETTEVILLE — Chelsea Dungee and Amber Ramirez were hoping to play college basketball together when both graduated from high school.
Despite growing up in different states, they played in the same backcourt for San Antonio’s Finest AAU team in the summer. But they ended up choosing different colleges and going against one another in the Big 12 conference with Dungee signin with the University of Oklahoma and Ramirez at Texas Christian University in 2016.
Fast forward to three years later, and they are back together again as redshirt juniors at Arkansas.
Ramirez put it in simple terms.
“It’s going to be nice!” Ramirez shouted.
Ramirez sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules and could only watch and cheer on her future teammates as Dungee and the Razorbacks put together an unbelievable late-season run to reach the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament as a No. 10 seed.
Arkansas came within a hair of an NCAA Tournament bid and reached the Women’s National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals before falling to Ramirez’s old team in front of a vocal crowd of more than 5,000 in Bud Walton Arena.
Dungee said Ramirez, the former McDonald’s All-American from San Antonio, will be exactly what the Razorbacks need to push them forward to an even better season this year.
“Offensive threat, there’s not any more to it,” Dungee said. “And we definitely need that to get over the hump and I think that’s what she’s going to bring.”
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors concurred.
Even though Ramirez averaged only around 10 points per game in two seasons at TCU, Neighbors pointed out TCU was more post-oriented in their philosophy. He also reminded that Dungee averaged under 10 points a game her freshman year at Oklahoma before scoring more than 20 a game last season at Arkansas.
Ramirez said Neighbors’ more wide-open style appealed to her, and he believes the 5-9 guard will flourish in it similar to how Dungee blossomed a year ago.
“There’s gonna be a night she probably scores 10, but there’s going to be a night she scores 30, too,” Neighbors said. “She’s gonna hit 10 threes, too, some night.”
Pair her with the 5-11 Dungee, who enjoyed a record-breaking first season at Arkansas, and that has coaches and players excited about the possibilities.
Blending the two
Neighbors had already seen the two co-exist in the same backcourt playing summer ball when he was coaching at Washington. So he was able to quickly dismiss any negative comments from others who said that could be an issue.
“Our detractors or people trying to negative recruit us say, ‘Oh there’s not enough shots to go around,’” Neighbors said. “They’ve existed together before. Ya’ll need to try some other angle. They’ve played together and played at a really high level.
“That summer their team was one of the best teams in the country. They both have found unique niches, but they know they can still do it together. There’s a sisterly relationship. They are very different, but they push each other and hold each other accountable. They are individuals who have learned to impact a team sport which is a lot harder than people think.”
Ramirez’s offensive firepower, particularly her perimeter shooting, will make the Razorbacks better for sure, but that’s far from all she brings, Neighbors said.
“The beautiful thing about her is she doesn’t have to put points on the board to impact the team,” Neighbors said. “She’s an incredibly good passer. Chelsea will get easier shots as a result of what Amber’s capable of doing whether she has the ball in her hands or is she’s standing in the corner.”
Similar redshirt seasons
Dungee committed to serious dietary changes the season she had to sit out after transferring from OU. She shed around 30 pounds and dedicated herself to being in better physical condition. She acknowledged that was a big reason for her strong season last year.
She didn’t specifically talk to Ramirez about doing that, but Ramirez took a similar path last year to be ready to play in Neighbors’ faster paced attack.
“Coming from TCU, I knew I needed to get in better shape because of the style of play here,” Ramirez said. “I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. It’s more of a physical and mental thing. I feel better about myself.”
Ramirez specifically worked to become a better defender.
“A lot of people said ‘she can’t play any defense,’” Ramirez said of herself. “I really focused on the angles and watching how each player plays and watching three feet this way, three feet that way. And I know somebody has my back if I do get beat.”
Neighbors said there’s no question Dungee is a better player this season than she was last season, which should strike fear in opponents given her performance a year ago. She set a record for points in the SEC Tournament and a single-season school record for points.
Dungee earned first-team All-SEC preseason honors and was named to at least one preseason All-American team thanks to her performance and some notoriety comes with that. Neighbors said she’s handled it well.
“Because of the run, she’s recognized everywhere she goes,” Neighbor said. “That’s not easy for anybody to deal with, but she’s handled it in stride. That’s a different type of pressure.”
Ramirez is the more vocal of the two, but that’s also been a part of Dungee’s growth.
Neighbors said he has great trust in both players and recently stopped practice to reiterate the point. Ramirez thought about a 3-point shot in transition but passed it up and shot a layup instead in a late-game situation in which her team was trailing by three points.
“I told her ‘just so you know I’d have been OK if you’d shot that (3-pointer),’” Neighbors said. “She said ‘really?’ I said ‘absolutely. You’re open at the 3-point line instead of us having to get a stop and go score again? I’ll take my chances.’”
The Razorbacks’ chances for more success this season should also be better with Ramirez and Dungee in the backcourt together.
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