Satou Sabally 1-on-1: Dirk Gives 'Unicorn' Welcome To New DFW Star
DALLAS - Satou Sabally already knows. As Dallas’ newest star athlete from Germany, she has pretty big shoes to fill. And she’s ready.
“I accept the challenge. I’m following in great footsteps,” the new Dallas Wings star told me via phone hours after she was picked No. 2 overall in Friday’s WNBA draft.
The footsteps she’s following in belong to fellow German athlete Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas’ beloved now-retired Maverick who played with the franchise 21 years and brought the city a championship.
Now Dallas has another German to cheer on ... and the Dallas-German connection continues.
“I have a mentor now. That’s what I will describe him as for me,” Sabally said of Nowitzki – who went on Instagram Live with Sabally the day before the draft then sent her a congratulatory tweet Friday night.
Said Sabally, who shares the "Unicorn'' nickname with another DFW star in Kristaps Porzingis: “I got the chance to have a short conversation with him. We talked and he gave me advice; he said ‘Enjoy it and work hard.’ Germany loves him and his family and I am so happy to connect with them here.”
From Germany to Dallas to Oregon
The 21-year-old Sabally – who turns 22 on Saturday - was born in New York City to a Gambian father, Jerreh, and German mother, Heike. The family moved to Gambia when she was 2 years old, and then moved to Berlin when she was preparing to start school. She was discovered by a local coach as a 9-year-old at a playground and began regularly attending practices. She was actually the only girl on her first youth team.
“It was tough. In the beginning I would never get the ball,” she recalled with a laugh. “Later on I carried the team. Shows that even as a little girl, you can always make a difference.”
She played locally in Berlin and also played overseas with the German National Team, averaging 20.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 steals during the FIBA U20 European Championship game in 2018 and earned a FIBA U20 MVP award in 2017, winning a gold medal.
Sabally was recruited by Oregon University at age 19 and left her mark in just three years. She finished her career as the Ducks’ seventh all-time scorer with 1,508 career points, including averaging 17.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game during the final 19 games of her collegiate career.
The 6-4 forward collected a career-high seven double-doubles her junior year to push her collegiate career total to 11 and scored in double-digits in 23 of her 29 games played her final season, finishing her career tied for ninth in Oregon history with 77 double-figure scoring games as well as ranking ninth on the program’s made three-pointer list with 180 career treys.
Despite these accolades and an upcoming senior year where the sky would have been the limit, Sabally decided to declare early for the draft.
“I made the decision to leave early because it was good for my family with the financial aspects and the new CBA,” said Sabally, winner of the Cheryl Miller Award as the nation’s top small forward. “I felt I was in a good position to enter into the league and so I did.”
After going No. 2, she feels validated with her decision but still plans to work on every aspect of her game and is clear about holes in her game and steps needed to improve them.
“It does validate it,'' she said, "but I still think I need to prove myself. And I'm going to celebrate, I'm excited that I got drafted second, but I'm not going to settle on that, and I'm going to keep going hard and really try to prove myself.
“I feel like I can work on every aspect of my game. I'm never satisfied with myself, and I never settle, but I will rebound hard, as hard as I can. I will drive harder to the basket because sometimes I still shy away from too much contact, which I have done a lot better on that the past year, but I still want to improve on that, get more finishes around the rim, more variations around the basket and from the arc.
"As I said, you can improve on everything. You can improve everything, and I'm also going to get that Dirk fadeaway shot since I will be in Dallas.''
Race, Culture and Inspirations
Like Nowitzki, Sabally’s German heritage affects both her game, mentality and outlook on life.
“My game and mentality has really been influenced by Germany and the European culture, just playing in nearly every country in Europe and in almost every city in Germany has taught me how to travel, how to have that professional life, and I feel like I'm bringing that into the WNBA already as a rookie,” Sabally said.
“I really like the style of the game; it teaches you structure. I played pick-and-roll a lot earlier in Germany.”
Sabally, the highest U.S.-drafted German athlete ever, is passionate about race and equality and will use her new WNBA platform to bring awareness to these issues.
“First of all, I really think that I still need to grow and learn a lot about race issues and equality and such because I believe that the more you know the more you can advocate for,” she said. “But the things that I do know and the things that I am interested in, I will continue to have conversations around it, and I will raise awareness on my social media platforms, make connections to people that are really interested in it and want to make a change, and I'm going to start working with them.
“People like LeBron (James), people like Serena Williams and even (Colin) Kaepernick, they're all just a great inspiration to my life that I would love to work with and that I want to create change with. I'm just super excited to be able to combine basketball and my passion about equality.”
Sabally said although she misses family, friends and food from Berlin, she is thrilled and ready for Dallas – where her boyfriend Jalen also just happens to live.
“I really like Dallas because it reminds me of Berlin; great community and culture,'' she said. "The German culture in Dallas is just growing, and I'm just super excited to be a part.”
Sabally said she draw her biggest influence and inspiration from her mom, Heike.
“She always worked hard, never put herself first and always put us first,'' Satou said. "She showed me family is most important.”
She also draws inspiration from her favorite WNBA player, Maya Moore.
Said Sabally: “I love her and aspire to be like her. I love what she is doing now (left league to work on social justice issues); It’s inspiring.”
Sabally also cited former Dallas Wings star Skylar Diggins-Smith and Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker as inspirations.
The Waiting Game
As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues to keep the sports world on pause, Sabally said she is passing the time practicing and staying in shape and spending time with family.
“I'm going to celebrate with my family and friends,'' Sabally told me. "But until then, I'm going to stay in shape and work hard and I'm going to wait for coach (Brian) Agler to call to tell me what's next. I’m really excited to meet the community and the fans and build a strong tie with each and every one of them ... to start the season and get some wins and get them on the map for women’s basketball.”